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Presented By: Science, Technology & Society

STS Speaker. On Pandemic Potential

Adia Benton, Northwestern University

Prof. Adia Benton Prof. Adia Benton
Prof. Adia Benton
In the aftermath of the West African Ebola crisis, the World Bank along with WHO, reinsurers, and a catastrophic risk modeling firm, developed the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The aim of the PEF was to leverage private investment to rapidly finance pandemic emergency responses in poor countries. The construction and design of the PEF hinges upon a definition and formal mathematical rendering of what they’ve described as ‘pandemic potential.’ Pandemic potential—the idea that certain pathogens are more likely than others to cause mass sickness across national borders and over a short period of time -- signals a particular relationship between pathogens and public health scientists’ prophetic relation to the past.

While much has been written about temporal ideologies governing pandemic preparedness and discourse, less has been said about the categories of person/human and place/geographies that ‘pandemic potential’ also presumes and produces. In this conversation, I hope to discuss what all of this means in relation to race, finance capital, and geography, via a close reading of the bond’s documentation, interviews with key players in the development of the bond, and other critical analyses of the public health’s financialization.

Adia Benton is an associate professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Northwestern University, where she is affiliated with the Science in Human Culture Program. She is the author of the award-winning book, HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone, and is currently writing a book about the West African Ebola outbreak. More broadly, she studies the political, economic and historical factors shaping how care is provided in complex humanitarian emergencies and in longer-term development projects – like those for health.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Office of Global Public Health, African Studies Center, Department of Anthropology

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