Global Health and Humanitarianism

Is humanitarianism an effective, justifiable and sustainable response to ill-health, inequality, injustice and war?

About The Course

Global health is public health at the global level. It deals with the interconnections between people from all over the world. It is based on the idea that it is necessary to cooperate internationally to respond to diseases, disasters and conflicts which now threaten us all. Humanitarianism, in all its various forms, is one response. In attempting to organise a humanitarian intervention, though, we are confronted by a wide range of problems. Most acute of these is the intense inequality which marks the contemporary world. Public health – its capacities, delivery structures and finances – is profoundly different for the 1 billion people who live in the world’s wealthier countries. Those elsewhere have much more limited access to publicly funded or privately insured medicine. As a consequence, humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) now deliver a large proportion of the world’s health care.

This course introduces these issues by looking first at the vague, yet highly contested, notion a global health agenda. It then goes on to consider how and why the world’s wealthier countries have sought to develop a response to the emergencies and crises that the vulnerabilities of others have produced. Here, public pressure and the ethical imperative to bear witness when confronted with suffering are especially important. Finally, the course considers whether or not humanitarian assistance can be considered a right. It looks at the emerging Responsibility to Protect agenda and the associated moral dilemmas around sovereignty, post-colonialism and duty-based ethics.

 Within this context, the course explores these critical questions:

  • Is humanitarian aid, as a concept, as simple as the rich helping the poor?
  • Are these interventions well-meaning and effective?
  • Should governments be committing tax revenues – involuntarily given – to improve the health of others far away?
  • Do those that can afford it have a responsibility to act in some way?
  • What does receipt of aid mean for the recipient country, its leadership, its future, and its responsibility?
  • Must people be helped only according to need, regardless of what a regime might have done?
  • Must humanitarians remain neutral – silent perhaps – in the face of injustice in order to ensure access?
  • Must the causes of inequality, suffering and violence be ignored in favour of access, action and outcome?

Each of the 3 sessions below is built around a series of interviews with 3 leading figures in the humanitarian world. The first, Professor Tony Redmond OBE, is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine and a founding member of the College of Emergency Medicine. He was founding Editor of the Emergency Medicine Journal and a founder the Resuscitation Council. His interest in disaster management began with the earthquake in Armenia in 1988 (where he was appointed to the Soviet Order for Personal Courage) and he has since responded to a range of humanitarian crises in Kurdistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Cape Verde, Kosovo, Kenya, Iran, Pakistan, China and Haiti. In 1994 he established UK-Med, an NGO that now hosts the UK International Emergency Trauma Register. He is currently Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester and Chair of the Foreign Medical Teams Working Group at the World health Organisation.

The second, Professor Rony Brauman, is Director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester. He has worked in the field of international medical assistance since 1977. He has served as a field physician in Thailand, Chad, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Angola, Somalia, Afghanistan, primarily with Médecins Sans Frontières (France). He became the President of the organization from 1982 -1994. During this period, MSF became recognized as the largest and the most effective transnational not-for-profit medical agency in the world and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. He was awarded the "Prix Henry Dunant" in 1997 and currently lectures at the Institut d'Études Politiques (Paris) and is Director of Research at the MSF Foundation also in Paris.

 The third, Professor Mukesh Kapila CBE, is Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs in the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester. He is also Special Representative of the Aegis Trust and Chair of Minority Rights Group International. Previously, he was Under Secretary General at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Earlier, he served as Special Adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and then to the UN Mission in Afghanistan. Subsequently, he led the UN’s largest country mission at the time as the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan, and then became a Director at the World Health Organization. Prior to the UN, Professor Kapila was at the UK's Department for International Development, initially as senior health and population adviser and latterly as the first head of a new Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department that he set up.

Recommended Background

None, all welcome.