Health and Human Security

On 23 March 2020, as the COVID-19 virus was rapidly spreading around the world and the lockdown was keeping Italians at home, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire. As with the feeling of solidarity and community that entered our homes from our balconies and made us imagine, naively, a better post-pandemic world, the Secretary-General hoped that, if heeded, his plea would allow the international community to focus on the challenges posed by the pandemic and perhaps even provide an opportunity for diplomacy to end ongoing conflicts worldwide. However, this has not happened. And in some contexts the ceasefire has been accompanied by an increase in violence and a worsening of conflict dynamics, as explained in the first article of this issue of Human Security. In fact, Kieran Mitton, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London and co-founder of the Urban Violence Research Network, points out how both the temporary nature of ‘corona-ceasefires’ and the difficulties in reining in violence around the world underline key findings from decades of research on armed conflict and shed light on some of the main shortcomings of negotiation and peacebuilding processes.

If the images of war and poverty that the media bring us most often have us turning our eyes to the so-called ‘failed states’ in the Global South, the current pandemic has forced us to reorient our gaze, unveiling the weaknesses of the international system as a whole but also, and above all, the shortcomings of those ‘strong states’ that in ‘normal’ times boast a position of economic, military and cultural leadership. Discussing the case of the United States and in particular the relationship between the federal government and the Native American nations, the article by Charles Geisler, Emeritus Professor at Cornell University, encourages readers to reflect on the meaning of ‘state failure’ and the link between national security and public health. Francesca Fortarezza, PhD student at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and author of the next article, also questions this link. She does so by focusing on the ‘side effects’ of the ‘extraordinary’ measures that government around the world have put in place to deal with an ‘exceptional’ threat and on the role of human rights defenders as antibodies against the social crisis we are going through.

The words of Geisler and Fortarezza make it clear that, as a matter of fact, pandemics are much more than purely health problems and thus require the articulated action of a number of actors. Along these lines, the One Health approach promoted by the Global Health Security Agenda initiative acknowledges the interconnections between humans, animals and the environment, and fosters a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach to achieving optimal, systemic health for the planet. In their article for Human Security, Micol Fascendini, Daniela Rana, Elena Cristofori and Elena Comino share the experience of the NGO Comitato Collaborazione Medica (CCM) in Kenya’s Marsabit County, where CCM is engaged in nurturing the health and resilience of pastoral communities. As shown by the findings of the interdisciplinary research conducted by the CCM team, preventing and managing infections and epidemics requires us to understand not only the medical aspects of human health but also its sociocultural dimensions. A similar argument is put forward by Jerome Ntege, PhD student at Makerere University, who delves into the relationship between national and human security from an anthropological perspective. In his article, Ntege recounts the experiences and perceptions of the people who were living in the borderlands between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo when the Ebola epidemic hit in 2007.

The thirteenth issue of Human Security ends with the testimony of those who have been dealing with health emergencies in contexts of conflict and widespread insecurity for years, and well before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Giovanna De Meneghi and Edoardo Occa, from the NGO Doctors with Africa CUAMM, highlight how the efforts of health workers have to be understood as embedded in relational and social contexts that cannot be overlooked. Anna Maria Abbona Coverlizza and Erika Vitale, both working for the NGO MedAcross, provide a concrete example of how development cooperation in the health sector demands a high degree of flexibility and adaptability, even more so when the operational reality turns into that of a global pandemic.

The complete issue of Human Security n. 13 is available at this link (in Italian).

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