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The politics of epidemic response: New actors in global health security

Since the Ebola crisis of 2014-2015, NGOs, private companies and militaries are increasingly involved in epidemic preparedness efforts - but with what consequences, for the politics and the practices of global health security?

Image contains: personal protective equipment, hazmat suit.

Health workers receiving training on waste disposal in the UK, under the supervision of the military. Flickr: DFID-UK

About the project

The fight against dangerous epidemics has historically been a state matter. However, a major development occurred in 2014-2015 with the active role played in the Ebola response by new actors – such as militaries, NGOs, and the private sector. Several policy initiatives launched in the aftermath of the Ebola crisis include institutional mechanisms to foster cross-sectoral and public-private cooperation.

This PhD project will examine one of such initiative, the Emergency Medical Teams (EMT). EMTs include trained medical staff, capable of managing dangerous epidemics and medical humanitarian emergencies, as well as support staff and critical infrastructures needed to set-up self-sufficient treatment centers within 48 hours, anywhere in the world.

Humanitarian equipment ready to be dispatched to a crisis, Illustration picture, Direct_Relief (creative commons)

These teams can be developed by governments (Norway, the UK, China), military forces (Israel), commercial companies (Aspen Medical) or NGOs (Johanniter International, Team Rubicon) and should be able to cooperate during an emergency. The WHO has set-up an initiative to coordinate and certify these teams.

I will study the Emergency Medical Teams from the UK and Norway, which have been initiated by governments, but operationalized with the cooperation of the military, NGOs and the private sector.


I will unpack the consequences of the growing involvement of new actors in the politics of epidemic response through the following research questions:

  1. How does increased cross-sectoral cooperation amongst public health, humanitarian and military actors influence the practices and understandings of global health security?
  2. How does the growing role of non-state actors in epidemic preparedness efforts affect rich countries' capacities to respond to epidemics?
  3. What consequences does the development of global health emergency capacities have for state sovereignty and global humanitarian responsibility during an epidemic?


The project is financed by a personal PhD Fellowship (2019-2023) from the Centre from Development and the Environment, University of Oslo awarded to Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée.


Published Sep. 13, 2019 8:38 AM - Last modified Apr. 3, 2020 4:33 PM