On November 1, 2016, Dr. Amy Patterson, Professor of Politics at The University of the South, presented her research at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. The Society, which was established by Royal Charter in 1905, is composed of over a dozen medical specialty colleges. Patterson was invited to speak to the annual conference of the Royal College of Pathologists, during the College’s meeting on the theme “Pathology Is Global.” Patterson was invited because her research has examined how health issues become political priorities in the global health arena. The presentation, entitled “The Politics of Public Health Emergencies: When Do They Become International Concerns?” drew on research she had conducted during summer 2016 about responses to Ebola in Liberia.
In her presentation, Patterson provided background on the International Health Regulations and the power they give the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a public health emergency of international concern. She analyzed the relationship between the WHO and donor states that politically and financially support the WHO. This political dynamic plays a crucial role in the ways that WHO prioritizes diseases such as Zika in 2016, H1N1 influenza in 2009, and Ebola in 2014-2015.
Even though she is not a medical specialist, Patterson remarked that she gained several important insights from the conference. First, she became more acutely aware of the logistical challenges of health-care provision in war-torn areas, such as northern Iraq. Second, Patterson learned more about the role of diaspora populations in providing health care in humanitarian crises. (For example, Syrian health-care workers in Western Europe have dedicated time, energy, and resources to health-care centers in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.) Finally, she learned how global cooperation through Interpol facilitates the necessary, but sometimes grim, process of disaster victim identification, since Interpol sets standards for communication, reporting, and identification. While Patterson is not quite ready to jettison her job for medical school (her initial track of study in university), she did appreciate how she and the scientists learned from one another during the conference.