The Politics of Operationalizing the World Health Organization Activities: Global Politics, health security and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network
Sherrod, Rebecca J.
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Infectious diseases attract a lot of mediatic, cultural and political attention. But are those diseases like Ebola, or ‘disease x’ actually what kills us? Since 1946, the WHO is the most authoritative figure in the fights against infectious disease outbreaks. So how does the WHO maintain this power and authority after tremendous budget cuts, competition for authority, and a shift to non-communicable disease epidemiology? This thesis uses a mixed-methods approach of quantitative analysis of ‘Disease Outbreak News’ reports, and qualitative analysis of key WHO literature, to develop the alternative narrative answering those questions. This thesis found that the WHO activities surrounding the collection and distribution of data create a political and institutional environment in which the WHO seems to be the only logical solution to prevent them. Additionally, the narrative put forth by the WHO prioritizes the ‘alert and response’ and operational capabilities of the organization to further expand authority in outbreak response. This study concludes that the WHO, through the collection and distribution of knowledge, and efforts to increase operational capability as seen through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), seeks to maintain normative authority and power as an international organization.
General Audience Abstract
Globalization of trade and travel has only increased the fear of infectious disease transmission. There is a great demand for a global health security system that is alert and capable. Based on this ‘threat’ the WHO justifies their role as global health leader. The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) is the system that currently acts as the operational arm of the WHO, monitoring and coordinating response to infectious disease outbreaks globally. Despite the critical role of GOARN, its day-to-day endeavors remain unexplored by the public health field. This thesis analyzes how the WHO uses GOARN and its surveillance capabilities to collect and transform data as a method to maintain normative authority, and projects a powerful narrative as the leader of ‘alert and response’. In a competitive environment with limited financial resources, the WHO has adapted in terms of surveillance and operational capability to maintain its leadership and authority in the global public health field.
- Masters Theses 
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