The evolution, etiology and eventualities of the global health security regime

Health Policy Plan. 2010 Nov;25(6):510-22. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czq037. Epub 2010 Aug 22.


Background: Attention to global health security governance is more important now than ever before. Scientists predict that a possible influenza pandemic could affect 1.5 billion people, cause up to 150 million deaths and leave US$3 trillion in economic damages. A public health emergency in one country is now only hours away from affecting many others.

Methods: Using regime analysis from political science, the principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures by which states govern health security are examined in the historical context of their punctuated evolution. This methodology illuminates the catalytic agents of change, distributional consequences and possible future orders that can help to better inform progress in this area.

Findings: Four periods of global health security governance are identified. The first is characterized by unilateral quarantine regulations (1377-1851), the second by multiple sanitary conferences (1851-92), the third by several international sanitary conventions and international health organizations (1892-1946) and the fourth by the hegemonic leadership of the World Health Organization (1946-????). This final regime, like others before it, is challenged by globalization (e.g. limitations of the new International Health Regulations), changing diplomacy (e.g. proliferation of global health security organizations), new tools (e.g. global health law, human rights and health diplomacy) and shock-activated vulnerabilities (e.g. bioterrorism and avian/swine influenza). This understanding, in turn, allows us to appreciate the impact of this evolving regime on class, race and gender, as well as to consider four possible future configurations of power, including greater authority for the World Health Organization, a concert of powers, developing countries and civil society organizations.

Conclusions: This regime analysis allows us to understand the evolution, etiology and eventualities of the global health security regime, which is essential for national and international health policymakers, practitioners and academics to know where and how to act effectively in preparation for tomorrow's challenges.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Health Policy
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Security Measures / history*
  • Security Measures / organization & administration
  • Security Measures / trends