1st Edition

Viral Sovereignty and the Political Economy of Pandemics What Explains How Countries Handle Outbreaks?

By Sophal Ear Copyright 2022
    238 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Over the past few decades a number of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) have disrupted societies throughout the world, including HIV, Ebola, H5N1 (or ‘‘avian flu’’) and SARS, and of course the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  which spread worldwide to become a global pandemic. As well as EIDs, countries and regions also contend with endemic diseases, such as malaria. There are many factors that have contributed to the rise in, and spread of, EIDs and other diseases, including overpopulation, rapid urbanization, environmental degradation, and antibiotic resistance. Political and cultural responses to disease can greatly affect their spread. The global community needs to defend itself against disease threats: one weak link is enough to start a chain reaction that results in a global pandemic such as COVID-19. Some states take a nationalistic approach towards combating disease; however, international cooperation and meaningful ‘‘viral sovereignty’’—empowering countries to create effective health institutions and surveillance systems in order to contain disease—must be considered.

    This volume, with a focus on Southeast Asia, Africa and North America, considers the intersection between disease, politics, science, and culture in the global battle against pandemics, making use of case studies and interviews to examine the ways in which governments and regions handle outbreaks and pandemics.


    1 Cambodia, Indonesia and the US Naval Area Medical Research Unit 2

    2 Thailand: Challenges with EID Surveillance in a Regional Leader

    3 Managing Artemisinin-Resistant Malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion

    4 The West African Ebola Virus Epidemic of 2014

    5 Kenya: Diagnostics versus Research in an East African Community Leader

    6 Infectious Disease Surveillance on the US-Mexico Border

    7 Transparency and Cooperation in Mexico’s Swine Flu Outbreak




    Dr Sophal Ear is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Global Development and a tenured Associate Professor in the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, USA. He is the author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy (Columbia University Press), co-author of The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resource Quest Is Reshaping the World (Routledge), and co-editor of the special virtual issue of Politics and the Life Sciences on Coronavirus: Politics, Economics, and Pandemics (Cambridge University Press). A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University, he moved to the United States from France as a Cambodian refugee at the age of 10.

    "Health security is well-recognized now as a critical component of national security. In Viral Sovereignty, Dr Ear offers a masterclass in this provocative book, impressive in its breadth and depth and perfectly timed for this Covid era." 

    Brad Boetig, MD, MPH, MA, Colonel, US Air Force, Director, Global Health Graduate Certificate Program, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD

    "This book is a ‘must read’ for academics, global health practitioners and policymakers wanting to gain a broader understanding of the challenges in the development of health infrastructure for the detection of emerging infectious diseases. Through personal interviews, literature review and country examples, the author addresses the broader context of political, cultural and economic issues within countries and within donor organizations that have inhibited development of health infrastructure and meaningful ‘viral sovereignty’ – a country’s ability to detect and address emerging disease and to share that information regionally and internationally." 

    Robert Martin, MPH, DrPH, Professor Emeritus, Department of Global Health, University of Washington

    "Few scholars of emerging infectious diseases understand the complexities of managing viral disease outbreaks more thoroughly than Sophal Ear, whose on-the-ground insights over the past decade have benefited the public health community in incalculable ways. In this timely and important book on the political economy of pandemics, he elaborates the concept of ‘viral sovereignty,’ a framework for policymaking that not only addresses managing disease outbreaks once they occur but also suggests strategies for proactively building effective public health institutions and surveillance systems to contain disease spread so the world health community can avoid more devastating global pandemics. Viral Sovereignty is a must read for anyone interested in improving the quality of public health internationally."

    Erik P. Bucy, Marshall and Sharleen Formby Regents Professor of Strategic Communication, Texas Tech University, and former editor, Politics and the Life Sciences

    "Once again, Professor Sophal Ear connects his rigorous academic approach with his unique insights into the political, economic, and human costs of global disease. Using curated case studies, he argues for continuous and generalized infectious disease surveillance, particularly in countries of the Global South where the next major pandemic is likely to originate. Ear discusses nuances of viral sovereignty, put forth by Indonesia during the H5N1 avian influenza outbreak, refusing to share its precious virus samples without guarantees of access to treatments or vaccines developed using those strains. Sharing of isolates, of course, should be part of a global mutual benefit agreement, but as illustrated by China's recent lack of transparency and outright interference with WHO's investigation of the origin of SARS-CoV-2, has become a political-economic bargaining chip. Prof. Ear explains why local and international cooperation is necessary, and how misinformation and mistrust undermine the rapid and effective responses critical to containment of future global health threats. He supports arguments for enforcement in addition to voluntary goodwill. In this book, Prof. Ear presents recommendations for global leaders from both resource-rich and resource-poor countries to manage their investments in health care systems before the next disease emerges."

    Ellen Jo Baron, PhD, D(ABMM), F(AAM), F(IDSA), Professor Emerita, Stanford University