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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Salvaging the global neighborhood : multilateralism and public health challenges in a divided world Aginam, V. Obijiofor


This thesis explores the relevance of international law in the multilateral protection and promotion of public health in a world sharply divided by poverty and underdevelopment. In this endeavour, the thesis predominantly uses the concept of "mutual vulnerability" to discuss the globalisation of diseases and health hazards in the emergent global neighbourhood. Because pathogens do not respect geo-political boundaries, this thesis argues that the world has become one single germ pool where there is no health sanctuary. The concept of mutual vulnerability postulates that the irrelevance or obsolescence of national boundaries to microbial threats has created the capability to immerse all of humanity in a single microbial sea. It follows, therefore, that neither protectionism nor isolationism offers any effective defences against advancing microbial forces. As a result, the thesis argues that contemporary multilateral health initiatives should be driven primarily by enlightened self-interest as opposed to parochial protectionist policy. This study is primarily situated within the discipline of international law. Nonetheless, it draws on the social sciences in its analysis of traditional medicine in Africa. It also makes overtures to medical historians in its discussion of the attitudes of societies to diseases and to the evolution of public health diplomacy, to international relations in its analysis of international regime theories, and to a number of other disciplines interested in the phenomenon of globalisation. This interdisciplinary framework for analysis offers a holistic approach to public health policy-making and scholarship to counter the segmented approaches of the present era. Thus, this thesis is concerned with four related projects. First, it explores the relevance of legal interventions in the promotion and protection of public health. If health is a public good, legal interventions are indispensable intermediate strategies to deliver the final dividends of good health to the vulnerable and the poor in all societies. Second, it explores multicultural approaches to health promotion and protection and argues for a humane health order based on multicultural inclusiveness and multi-stakeholder participation in health-policy making. Using African traditional malaria therapies as a case study, the thesis urges an animation of transnational civil society networks to evolve a humane health order, one that fulfils the desired vision of harmony and fairness. Third, it makes an argument for increased collaboration among lawyers, epidemiologists and scholars of other disciplines related to public health. Using the tenets of health promotion and primary health care, the thesis urges an inter-disciplinary dialogue to facilitate the needed "epidemiological transition" across societies, especially in the developing world. Fourth, the thesis makes modest proposals towards the reduction of unequal disease burdens within and among nation-states. The thesis articulates these proposals genetically under the rubric of communitarian globalism, a paradigm that strives to meet the lofty ideals of the "law of humanity". In sum, it projects a humane world where all of humanity is inexorably tied in a global compact, where the health of one person rises and falls with the health of every other person, and where every country sees the health problems of other countries as its own. Arduous as these tasks may be, they are achievable only if damaged trust of past decades is rebuilt. Because the Westphalian sovereign states lack the full capacity to exhaustively pursue all the dynamics of communitarian globalism, multilateral governance structures must necessarily extend to both state and non-state actors. In this quest, the thesis concludes, international law - with its bold claims to universal protection of human rights and the enhancement of human dignity - is indispensable as a mechanism for reconstructing the public health trust in the relations of nations and of peoples.

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