As a historian and medical sociologist, I have been studying the histories of international responses to epidemic events and what they can tell us about the nature of power, economics, and geopolitics. A historical understanding of the international regulations for containing the spread of infectious diseases reveals a particular focus on controls that have protected North American and European interests.
In the past months, there have been xenophobic attacks on people of Asian descent connected to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and precipitous losses in global stock exchanges and risk of recession. Most reports have treated these as separate phenomena: considering one to be a cultural consequence of epidemic fears run rampant and the other to be the impact of the pandemic on global trade. Yet if one pauses to consider the history of the global management of pandemic disease threats, epidemics and global commerce have been inextricably related. Part of this history is the role of xenophobic responses to infectious disease threats. The xenophobia that has occurred in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic can be situated in a longer history that dates back to 19th-century epidemics and the first international conventions on controlling the spread of infectious diseases.
Author：Alexandre I Rwhite