The University of Maryland recently granted SPP Assistant Professor and CISSM Research Fellow Catherine Worsnop an Independent Scholarship, Research, and Creativity Award (ISRCA). The funding will support Worsnop’s book project, The Politics of Outbreak Response: The Evolution and Effectiveness of WHO’s International Health Regulations, which will expand on her dissertation research into state commitments and deviations from the WHO’s International Health Regulations.
This research mirrors Worsnop’s work as a co-PI for Pandemics & Borders, an international research project analyzing cross-border health measures through case studies in Canada, Hong Kong, and the United States. Since the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, all countries have enacted some degree of travel and trade restrictions despite the general guidance against such actions by the World Health Organization. For this project, Worsnop examines why states are taking these measures at such an unprecedented scale.
“The general puzzle at the heart of my research is why and how domestic political considerations lead some governments to ignore WHO's public health advice during crises, and how to shift political incentives to improve cooperation in the future,” explains Worsnop.
The WHO advises against cross-border health measures, citing that they impose significant costs while providing only minimal public health benefits. These guidelines have been followed by the majority of countries in past outbreaks, including H1N1 and Ebola. However, such actions during the COVID-19 pandemic put these recommendations to question.
“Governments’ widespread adoption of cross-border health measures and the changing evidence base for the use of such measures during the pandemic raises questions about that prevailing view and WHO’s initial recommendations,” says Worsnop. “In short, the issue of cross-border health measures has become more complex during COVID-19.”
Much of Worsnop’s career has been devoted to examining the role of cross-border measures during pandemics. Given the extent of her research into these questions, Worsnop integrates these themes into SPP courses. Her section of PLCY401 centers around the role of politics in outbreak response, and she discusses the issue as it relates to global governance in her section of PLCY688E.
Worsnop encourages students interested in these topics to understand that there is a place for them at the table in these conversations. Despite their scientific and medical elements, cross-border health measures are inherently political, and their implementation and research requires individuals with a policy background.
“A central message of my research is that outbreak response is a political process and not just shaped by science, evidence, and public health information and actors,” explains Worsnop. “As such, public policy students are needed in public health organizations, other international organizations with a health portfolio, and even health departments and other parts of the US government involved in outbreak response. It is vitally important that practitioners in this area include those who have a broad view of policy processes and dynamics.