The University of Iowa

2006: Health Services As An Instrument of International Politics: Responding to Pandemics, Disasters, and Violent Conflict

University of Iowa Global Health Studies Program Conference

October 20-22, 2006

Sponsored By

International Programs, University of Iowa; College of Public Health, University of Iowa; Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa; University of Iowa Center for Human Rights; Iowa United Nations Association; Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility

Intended Audience

Global Health Studies Students and faculty as well as others with an interest in international affairs; health care providers interested in working in international crisis situations; members of the general public with an interest in foreign affairs. Additional audience will be addressed through a special theme edition of International Journal of Global Health, published by University of Northern Iowa.


Our world is increasingly interconnected and prone to significant social, political or economic disruption in the wake of violent conflict, environmental disasters, and infectious diseases anywhere on the planet. Such phenomena do not respect local political differences, human-drawn boundaries, or national borders and often spill over elsewhere with unpredictable ripples of effects. Responding to such catastrophic events provide challenges and opportunities with short and long term costs and consequences to both the sending and receiving nations.

The provision of healthcare is increasingly seen as a means to influence national and world opinion. In struggles over power, autonomy, and resource allocation it can represent a political currency that reflects positively on the donor. The goal of this conference is to explore the manner in which international politics and global healthcare are inextricably intertwined. We hope that this will lead to further debate and inquiries, with a result we can all agree on: better foreign policies that lead to a more peaceful, secure and prosperous world.

Specific Goals

  1. To highlight the range of humanitarian crisis situations where providing health services can reflect well on and help advance unrelated goals of donor nations. Cases: Pandemics, disasters, violent conflict.
  2. To gain an understanding of the dual roles and uses of international health services provision as humanitarian assistance and a tool or currency of political policy. Examples/models: U.S., Scandinavian Countries, Cuba.
  3. To explore when, how, in what form, and to what extent humanitarian response is indicated as part of responsible global citizenship. Multilateral vs. Unilateral responses and obligations.
  4. To recognize some of the dangers or risks to aid workers and civilians when humanitarianism is perceived as aggression or opportunism. Cases: Refusal of Aid in Disasters, Increased targeting of aid workers in violent conflict.
  5. To explore the ethics of nations’ motives in providing health services in humanitarian crises in matters of imminent life and death.
  6. To question the process of responding after the fact of emergencies and disasters when compared to the cost of prevention, i.e. assess the effectiveness of pro-action versus reaction.