In order for nations to function healthily, its citizens need to be healthy. If a disease can wipe out millions, it is a major concern of the state, because a state needs its populace to function. Even government officials aren’t immune. The United States is concerned with public health through inoculation and sanitation, trade relations, and domestic policy.
Vaccination from epidemics and public sanitation are essential in maintaining a thriving population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that vaccines are the best defense against infectious diseases and has lead to the nearly eradication of smallpox and wild polio virus. The worst outbreak in 1918-1919 killed an estimated 50 million worldwide. If you scroll through this timeline of epidemics and vaccines, you will notice the correlation between a boom in population and a boom in diseases, which makes sense. While inoculation is only concerned with certain diseases, water supply and sanitation really control the health of a society. One of the earliest studies of public sanitation was when Dr. John Snow in 1854 noticed that the people who drank from the Soho District Street pump in London were more likely to get cholera. Increasing awareness and improving science lead people to demand healthier conditions and tougher governmental regulations since then. As far as the health of a society goes, the government has to step in regulate waste, but it can’t always require vaccinations. While school systems may require its students to be immunized, the H1N1 virus vaccine of 2009 was not mandatory despite its pandemic capabilities. The public’s skepticism of government power is demonstrated by people like Melissa McCarthy, who even said the vaccine caused her children to be autistic. The government’s duty to protect the public, and the individuals’ rights to choose what’s best for them are usually reconciled on the public sanitation point; but sometimes the individual has to give up person freedoms and take a vaccine to ensure the health of those around them.
PROTECTIONIST POLICIES THROUGH HEALTHCARE
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreements, proposed by the US, works in the favor of our capitalist ideal (see Lenin’s quote on page 89 of Introduction to International Political Economy, 6th Edition by Balaam and Dillman, “Monopolist capitalist combines—cartels, syndicates, trusts—divide among themselves, first of all, the whole internal market of a country, and impose their control, more or less completely, upon the industry of that country.”); that is, to make money and to keep as much power for our own nation as possible. These agreements, proposed to many countries with a weak stance to refuse the dominant power that is the US, would like to allow big pharmaceutical companies the ability to keep patents on vital drugs, longer than the initial 20 year agreement. In addition, several of the provisions being pushed by the U.S. facilitate the practice of so-called “evergreening,” where pharmaceutical companies undermine access to affordable medicines by using a variety of tactics to extend monopoly protection on drugs for diseases like HIV.
For example, companies obtain multiple secondary patents on a single drug so that even when patents on the original compound expire, the product is protected for years by a thicket of patents that prevents procurement of more affordable generic versions. Countries that sign the TPP will have to amend their patent laws to abide by whatever provisions are in the final agreement. If the TPP were signed today with the proposals pushed by the U.S. included, it would be extremely challenging for countries to limit the abusive practice of evergreening. And this would sign the death warrant of those developing nations whose people will die without easier and more affordable access to these medications.
This is an example of dependency theory because the nations such as the U.S. are motivated to keep the underdeveloped countries in dependence on foreign pharmaceuticals. This theory is further explained on page 90 from Introduction to IPE, 6th Edition, by Balaam and Dillman: there have been different sequences of dependency through time as explained by Theotonio Dos Santos, and now we are living “structure of dependence today based on the postwar multinational corporations.” And some of these multinational corporations are pharmaceutical like Bayer.
GOVERNMENT AND HEALTH CARE POLICY
The government shutdown that occurred just this week has had not only the country in an uproar, but has confused the rest of the world. What country would voluntarily shut down their government and make them vulnerable? For that’s exactly what this shutdown has done. Looking at this situation from how it impacts national security and individual freedom, there are no positives. The job of the NSA, if they are still open, just got harder. This shutdown has weakened the United States’ position internationally, and that fact has made keeping the US secure that much harder. Not to mention that the security of the US’s already struggling economy is shot. And the situation for the individual is not much better, if at all. An estimated 800,000 government workers have been furloughed, and major governmental businesses and groups that people depend on have been shutdown. Citizens who depended on the government for food are now out of luck. The freedom of the individual has been restricted even more so over something that they had no control over.
The recent shutdown is an apparent example the American government’s failure to agree on federal spending and the GOP’s rejection of the proposed universal healthcare, or the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”. With similar healthcare systems successfully implemented in many of our allied countries, it can be hard to understand why so many disapprove of the act.
Some who reject the idea of universal healthcare attribute their disapproval to the fact that their freedom is potentially being imposed upon. The ACA requires that everyone (healthy or unhealthy, young or old) file for health insurance, otherwise pay a fee. Although this may be an invasion of one’s freedom, we have concluded these violations of freedom can be forgiven. National healthcare is a form of national security implemented in order to protect people, used for the benefit of individuals, therefore is reconciled.
In 2011 Contagion was released amidst other movies that have underlying pandemic concepts (like I am Legend, and Perfect Sense). The concept of a disease so deadly and uncontrollable is definitely scary and a threat to national security. As the government works on new ways to keep its population healthy, so too does the individual have the responsibility to stay healthy. While in the U.S. it is unclear how far the government should go to ensure the health of its constituents, it is fairly clear that to benefit everyone, an individual has to think about more than themselves. The transnational patents would actually be doing society worse in the long-run because like in the movie Contagion, disease has no discrimination between nationality; countries can be seen like individuals, in this case, because to benefit one, you must benefit all.