Economisation of Global Health

Economisation of Global Health

A Monthly Online Seminar Series

Organised by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, King’s College London, and McGill University, together with the Accountability & Global Health Network and the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

January to April 2021

Since the 1970s, economic concerns, concepts and tools have progressively become central to and reconfigured the way global health is organised and managed. Often referred to as the economisation of global health, this process, in which the World Bank has played a key role, is hardly monolithic. It includes initiatives to problematise and restructure the financing of healthcare, from structural adjustment policies and their attempts to reduce public health expenditures and encourage private forms of healthcare to the identification of new mechanisms of funding like user fees and the Global Fund. It also comprises efforts to rethink priority setting and resource allocation, from global burden of disease calculations to cost-benefit analyses and randomized control trials. Last but not least, the economisation of global health also involves the multiplication of micro-economic devices that, like cash transfers and tobacco taxes seek to improve people’s quality of life by targeting individuals’ aspirations, preferences and calculations rather than larger macro-economic aggregates.

These seminars aim to bring together social scientists and historians to explore, in interdisciplinary conversations with economists, this process of economisation of global health. Specifically, the seminars will examine and discuss the following questions:

  • What are the different concerns and tools that have informed the economisation of global health and what are their genealogies?

    A key aim of the seminars will be to identify and examine some of the economic tools and intellectual traditions that have helped reconfigure global health over the last decades from the Washington consensus’ macro-economic policies informed by the neoliberal counter-revolution in international development all the way to sin taxes whose origins can be traced back to Chicago micro-economics and human capital theory and to alternative, health interventions informed by Amartya Sen’s human development and human capabilities theory.

  • What critiques have social scientists articulated about the economisation of global health and how have these critiques impacted on this process?

    While economists have played a key role in the economisation of global health, they do not own the economic concepts and tools that have come to dominate the field. Indeed, experts from other social science disciplines have examined the way these concepts and tools work and articulated alternative narratives and imaginaries about them. The seminars will pay close attention to these critiques and seek to understand their genealogies and the way they have come to transform the economic concerns, concepts and techniques that now permeate global health.

  • How did economists and their social scientific critics reconfigure the field of global health?

    Finally, the seminars will also explore the ways in which economic rationalities and critical social scientific imaginaries have helped transform global health. In particular, participants will examine the new forms of evidence, triage and policymaking, the new ways of organizing and financing healthcare as well as the new figures of the expert, advocate and patient imagined and deployed by economists and their critics.

When? Four online seminars on 27 January, 24 February, 31 March and 28 April 2020 from 12 to 2 pm EST.

Where? On the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine’s Zoom platform.

Organisers: George Weisz (McGill), Jean-Paul Gaudilliere (CNRS), David Reubi (King’s College), Frank Huisman (Utrecht) and Nancy Tomes (Stony Brook).

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Upcoming Meetings

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Past Meetings

  • April 28, 2021

    This seminar will examine the field of health systems research, with historian George Weisz (McGill) talking about ‘Creating an Epistemological Community: Health Policy and Systems Research’ and historian Martin Gorsky (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) speaking about ‘The Idea of a “Health System” in Research and Policy, 1891-1976’.

  • March 31, 2021

    This seminar will examine debates around universal healthcare, with anthropologist Ursula Rao (Max Planck, Halle) and public health expert Valery Ridde (IRD, Dakar). Ursula Roa  will speak about 'Experimental State Making en Route to Providing Universal Health Coverage in India', while Valery Ridde will discuss 'Health Financing Reforms History in Francophone West Africa: The Rise and Fall of New Public Management Instruments and Ideas'.

  • February 24, 2021

    This seminar will build on the first seminar, with historian Jean-Paul Gaudilliere (INSERM, Paris) and anthropologist Marlee Tichenor (Edinburgh) discussing pre-circulated papers on the role of the World Bank in the economisation of global health. The titles of their papers are 'Economic Triage and the Troubled Collaboration between the World Bank and WHO, 1978-1995' and 'Economizing the Right to Health: The World Bank and Universal Health Coverage', respectively.

  • January 27, 2021

    The seminar will revisit the making and impact of what is arguably one of the major moments in the economisation of global health: the World Bank’s 1993 report Investing in Health. To do so, we will conduct a witness seminar with two of the report’s lead authors and internationally renowned health economists – Dean T. Jamison and Abdo S. Yazbeck. The two will reminisce on their time at the Bank working on the report and reflect on the report’s reception and impact in the field of international health.

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