From security to risk: reframing global health threats

McInnes, Colin and Roemer-Mahler, Anne (2017) From security to risk: reframing global health threats. International Affairs, 93 (6). pp. 1313-1337. ISSN 0020-5850

[img] PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (141kB)


The rise of health issues such as HIV, pandemic influenza and Ebola on international agendas has led to the framing of threats to health as security issues. This has created an uneasy relationship between politics and health, by moving national interests into an area traditionally dominated by scientific rationalities and a predisposition towards cosmopolitan norms. Framing global health threats as risks, however, appears to be less politically charged and divisive, combining an aura of scientific objectivity with a moral call to action. In this article we argue that, despite its technical use in public health, in the policy discourse on global health the risk frame is not immune to values and interests but inherently political. It privileges a specific approach to global health policy which focuses on potential future catastrophes rather than presently existing health problems, emphasizes technological solutions rather than addressing the socio-economic determinants of health, while there is no single risk frame, but rather multiple risk frames existing simultaneously, as seen during the 2014–15 west African Ebola outbreak. However, framing health in terms of risk is useful in understanding how health issues reflect and contribute to the wider Zeitgeist concerning societal vulnerability: that dangers exist which are uncontrollable and are the product of technical progress. The risk frame allows us to place health issues into this wider context, where disease is just one of a number of concurrent dangers, rather than a separately identifiable hazard.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: health security, risk, global health governance
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Global Health Policy
Depositing User: Anne Roemer-Mahler
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2018 10:08
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2018 10:09

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update
Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Pharmaceuticals and Security: The Role of Public-Private Collaborations in Strengthening Global Health SecurityG1040EUROPEAN UNIONERC-2012-StG_20111124 312567