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The politics of epidemic response and the privatization of global health security: The global Emergency Medical Teams initiative

Since the Ebola crisis of 2014-2015 - and particularily in response to the COVID-19 pandemic - NGOs, private companies and militaries are increasingly involved in epidemic preparedness and response efforts. With what consequences for the politics and 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 Emergency Medical Teams initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), is an innovative governance arrangement that brings together a wide range of public and private actors as one ‘global health reserve army’ to respond to epidemics and humanitarian emergencies.

But how does cooperation between civil protection, military, charity and for-profit response teams play out in practice, both in the governance of the initiative and operationally?

If pandemic preparedness and response has traditionally been understood as a prerogative of the nation state, growing evidence suggests a certain ‘retreat of the state’ and an increasing reliance on private capacity (whether for-profit and not-for profit) to deal with epidemics.

This PhD project takes the Emergency Medical Teams initiative as a case-study to analyze new forms of cooperation in global health security: between public and private entities, across sectors, and not least, increasingly global.

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


This doctoral project’s main objective is to critically analyze the consequences of new forms of global, public-private and cross-sectoral collaborations for the politics of epidemic response, taking the case of the WHO Emergency Medical Teams initiative. More specifically, I will analyze the following research questions:

  1. How does the Norwegian EMT initiative foster cooperation across sectors, with private actors and international partners?
  2. What role and influence do private actors (both for and not-for profit) play within the WHO EMT initiative?
  3. What consequences does the development of global and often private health emergency capacities (such as EMTs) have for state sovereignty and global humanitarian responsibility during an epidemic, and how are they perceived by recipient countries?


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 June 5, 2020 3:17 PM