The Politics of Operationalizing the World Health Organization Activities: Global Politics, Health Security and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

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Virginia Tech

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.

Infectious disease surveillance, Global public health, World Health Organization, International health systems, Health security