Culture and health are to some degree mutually constitutive. The cultural frameworks into which we are socialised often shape our views on sickness, wellbeing, the causes of illnesses, and their remedies. The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights acknowledges this and, therefore, requires all health goods, facilities, and services to be “culturally appropriate”. This is an obligation on all States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to progressively realise. Culturally sensitive approaches to healthcare are important at all times, but can be especially vital during an epidemic. Our study of the recent Ebola crisis that reached a peak in West Africa in 2015 exemplified how indispensable culturally sensitive approaches to the right to health can be.
The recent Ebola crisis that shook West Africa, exceeded any previous Ebola epidemic and later was declared a pandemic by the WHO not only stretched local health care systems, but also revealed deep structural deficiencies in the international response to health issues of such a scale. The outbreak of this virus that crossed boarders easily and cost the lives of so many people raises fundamental questions regarding the actors and legal mechanisms designed and applied to manage the outbreak of highly infectious diseases.
These questions were at the heart of a workshop on “International Health Governance of Disease Outbreaks” which took place from 3-4 March 2016 at the Max-Planck-Institute for Comparative Public and International Law in Heidelberg.
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By Thomas Mulder, LLB
The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has caused over 11,000 reported deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been widely criticized for its late response to the outbreak and has pledged to reform its organization. However, many in the field of global health law remain deeply concerned by the struggles of the international community to find effective ways to prevent spread of disease. From a legal perspective, the Ebola crisis raises the question what obligations states and WHO have under international law to prevent (international) spread of contagious disease and whether these rules are effective in reality.
Dr. Brigit Toebes, University of Groningen
The recent Ebola crisis has caused approximately 11.000 deaths so far. Compared to other global health crises, including the deaths caused by armed conflicts and chronic diseases, this is still a small amount. Yet, from a global and domestic health law and governance perspective, this crisis raises a number of vital questions and challenges, which were also addressed during a recent SHARES debate organised by the University of Amsterdam. It reveals a lack of good governance and leadership at both domestic and international levels. It challenges us to ask the questions: what went wrong, who is responsible, and for what? This contribution to our new blog ‘Global Health Law Groningen’ looks at these questions from the perspective of international or global health law.