Duncan Mclean

The Politics of Infectious Disease - editors' introduction

In this issue, both the special section on the politics of infectious disease, and the other contributions, highlight and return to concerns that have long plagued humanitarianism. For example, all the contributions give insight into the need to understand the political context in which humanitarianism operates, whether to deliver medical care, to prevent aid being co-opted, or to ensure the dignity of aid recipients used by agencies in their fundraising and communications.

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Les 50 ans de MSF, ou comment l'humanitaire reste une épine dans le pied des dirigeants

Dresser le bilan de cinquante années d’action humanitaire de Médecins Sans Frontières tout en faisant l’inventaire des défis à venir est un exercice délicat. Avec des activités dans plus de 80 pays grâce à des financements privés approchant les 2 milliards d’euros, l’envergure actuelle de l’organisation est loin de la modeste initiative qui suivit le carnage des années 1960 au Biafra.

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The Business of Conflict: Humanitarian Assistance and the War Economy in Syria

The Syrian crisis is one of the most serious humanitarian disasters in recent history. Yet the widely reported numbers--more than 6 million displaced, including 5 million refugees--reflect only a fractional toll of the conflict. Numerous international organizations, states, and civil society movements have called for the laws of war to be respected, sieges lifted, and humanitarian access facilitated. But beneath each of these humanitarian appeals lies a complicated reality extending beyond the binary narratives that have come to define the war in Syria.

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International aid in the Covid era: the need for transparency

The scale and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the large number of deaths it has caused, have created a toxic mix of rumour and innuendo – further complicating aid operations that already face significant obstacles in delivering vital humanitarian assistance. At a time when medical personnel have been both applauded and subjected to hostility as potential vectors of the virus, aid staff face real security risks – risks that their organisations are obliged to take seriously.

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Medical care in armed conflict: Perpetrator discourse in historical perspective

Although the Geneva Conventions have been successively revised since 1864, norms regarding the protection of medical care have been frequently disregarded. Despite current claims of international humanitarian law in crisis, comparing historic levels of violations with contemporary incidents is quantitatively challenging. Reviewing past reactions and justifications used by perpetrators of attacks on medical care can, however, be revealing.

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Plagues of Prejudice

In December 1899 Honolulu-based physicians attributed two deaths to bubonic plague, and a local paper duly announced that the ‘scourge of the Orient’ had arrived. Within months a first plague fatality was reported in continental U.S. as Chinese-American Chick Gin (Wing Chung Ging or Wong Chut King depending on the transliteration) succumbed to the disease in San Francisco. The cause of death was based on a classic plague symptom of swelling around the groin, but was disputed even after rudimentary bacterial analysis.

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