College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Exploring the Link between Public Health and Social and Public Policy

Countries worldwide have been using different public health strategies, which are influenced by their political and social systems. The impacts of the differences in preventing, diagnosing and curing diseases become obvious since last year, as the world has been fighting COVID-19. The topic is so intriguing that the One Health cluster of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences decides to bring experts together for a discussion on 22 January 2021. 

Dr Nick OR of the Department of Public Policy first presented the paper A Tale of Two City-states: A Comparison of the State-led vs Civil Society-led Responses to COVID-19 in Singapore and Hong Kong. It compares the early pandemic response in Singapore and Hong Kong, two Asian city-states of similar sizes with a shared history of SARS, and advanced medical systems. He and his collaborators opine that although both were able to contain the disease, they did so using two very di¬fferent approaches. Using data from cross-national surveys, news, and mobility data, the researchers demonstrate that, in protest-ridden Hong Kong, low governmental trust bolstered civil society, which focused on self-mobilisation and community mutual-help. In Singapore, a state-led response model that marginalised civil society brought early success but failed to stem an outbreak among its segregated migrant population. 

In the Philippines, a lockdown of Metro Manila and most of the rest of the country since mid-March 2020 was implemented, in the face of the growing threat from the rapidly spreading virus. But that was the case only after Philippine President Rodrigo R DUTERTE’s initial denialism. Once Duterte did finally act, it was in a haphazard (particularly in terms of the lack of adequate testing and contract tracing) and highly militarised fashion. Yet opinion polls show Duterte’s popularity has increased despite the country’s poor performance during the pandemic. Professor Mark R THOMPSON of the Department of Asian and International Studies attempted to analyse the phenomenon, particularly Duterte’s political “success” despite governance failures during the pandemic in ideational (populist appeals), institutional (the lack of accountability in the country’s “hyperpresidentialist” system), and structural terms (the weakness of a socially-oriented political alternative despite the country’s extreme levels of inequality). The findings are detailed in the paper Popularity without Performance: The Philippine Government Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and presented in the seminar. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only health threat people face. There were also the outbreaks of SARS, H5N1 and H7N9, of which China has been a major source. The country is also the source of the MCR-1 gene that confers resistance to colistin, a “last line” antibiotic that can be deployed against multidrug-resistant infections. With the largest population of any country combined with its status as a major supplier of produce, evaluating the emergence of anti-microbial resistance in China and Chinese responses to the threat is critical to understanding the global response. Thus, Dr Nicholas THOMAS of the Department of Asian and International Studies and his collaborator have compiled and presented in the seminar a paper titled Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) in China. It starts by reviewing how Chinese authorities have framed the issue. The analysis focuses on antibiotic usage in both humans and the agricultural sector. Finally, the domestic and international implications of China’s responses are considered. Based on interviews with key Chinese and international officials, scientists, and public health specialists, as well as farmers and consumers, the authors presented data that argues the securitisation of AMR in China is currently more concerned with policy and resource competition than with addressing an existential threat.

Upcoming events of the cluster will include more panel seminars and talks by overseas speakers on the global response to COVID-19, psychosocial determinants of health, and health communications. Stay tuned on CLASS research website for news and updates.