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WSDS20 CHRONICLES: Health Dip Open Session


On the afternoon of 22 June 2020, InsSciDE opened the virtual doors to the public for the first session of our flagship program Warsaw Science Diplomacy School (WSDS, 22-26 June 2020). Observers got to see our enrolled students in action and sample the WSDS methodology during presentations on power, historical cases of health diplomacy for therapeutic research and for containment of the plague, as well as in a lively debate that channeled both student and instructors’ views on health diplomacy and the Covid-19 crisis.

This article is a part of the wider ’WSDS20 Chronicles’ article series, which will recount the sessions and explore the outcomes of the first edition of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School (WSDS). See also:
WSDS20: Week’s Overview
Day 2 WSDS20: Historical Analysis and Future Scenarios
Day 3 WSDS20: Strategy, Policy and Practitioner’s Panel (coming soon!)
Day 4 WSDS20: Risk, Safety and Security in SD (coming soon!)
Day 5 & Lessons Learned: Success & Opportunities with Virtual SD Training (coming soon!)

Rasmus Bertelsen: Power with Science Diplomacy

Delivering the first lecture of WSDS, Prof Rasmus Bertelsen urged students to apply a thoroughly critical perspective of public policy and in building their science diplomacy knowledge base.

Understanding and harnessing power with science diplomacy, the theme of Bertelsen’s InsSciDE work, calls for a holistic approach to concepts of both power and science, integrating social and natural sciences and considering the multiform powers at stake: from soft, hard, sharp or smart power to ideological, structural and agenda-setting power.

‘What is power, who has power and why do they have power?’ Students were challenged to broaden their ideas of what constitutes power, a heavily contested concept, which prompted discussions around power associated with foreign tuition fees, languages and science/knowledge in modern and colonial times.
Bertelsen, prepping students to produce a strategy deliverable in coming days, spoke of fostering ‘strategic luck’ through practice, adding color to his point with a quote from Olympic skier Ingemar Stenmark:

‘…the more I practice, the luckier I get.’

’Strategic luck’, Bertelsen argued, may be the absence of wars, pandemics and crises and is therefore more difficult to define than ‘strategic bad luck’, which is evident in man-made catastrophes such as the refugee crisis and preventable loss of biodiversity.

A central theory to InsSciDE is that history can be leveraged in this strategy development process, an idea inspired by the EU’s call for science diplomacy initiatives that strengthen their position in the global context. In the days that followed, WSDS students put this model to the test as they delved into historical case studies concerning plague, biodiversity goods, the law of the sea and colonialism, and expanded their observations to inform mock deliverables and policy advice.

Click here to see a short video of Bertelsen explaining the thinking behind the InsSciDE project.

Muriel Le Roux: Biodiversity as a Public Good

Muriel Le Roux traced how French researchers became ’precursors of a new diplomacy’ in newly-independent Madagascar and post-conflict Uganda in two cases where environmental and health diplomacy crossed ways. Her presentation raised questions around natural substances being dubbed as public goods due to healing effects, as was the case with French researchers pursuing Malagasy periwinkle for use in a cancer treatment drug.

In Uganda, a movement - started by French researchers and motivated by ensuring protection of natural resources from exploitation - saw Ugandan and French scientists in close cooperation with European diplomats and NGOs. Scientists also received funding from French multinational companies, curtailing research competition, mainly from China, and introducing a third domain in the affair whose role is perhaps not featured enough in science diplomacy discourse. Success of the collaboration was reflected in new Ugandan laws for protection of the environment, the launch of a now-regular environmental monitoring report, and progression of French-Ugandan research interests.

Céline Paillette: Dealing with the Plague in Oporto

In 1899, against the background of globalization of epidemics and internationalization of health regulations, the plague hit Oporto, posing a major threat to the city and the rest of Europe. Céline Paillette recounted how Oporto became the scene of international cooperation ‘on the ground’, with new partnerships forming between epidemiologists and bacteriologists as well as among diplomats and technical actors.

In particular, France seized the opportunity to advance their scientific influence by establishing a joint and prominent presence of Pasteur Institute researchers, who developed an anti-plague serum, and French diplomats, who pushed for the serum’s credibility and widespread administration. Paillette’s case opens onto ways in which State Health Diplomacy might have nourished what is today termed Global Health Diplomacy, and may provide insight into mechanisms for and outcomes of formal scientist-diplomat partnerships.

Health Diplomacy Debate: Transparency, Vaccines, Power and Covid-19

InsSciDE Coordinator Pascal Griset opened the debate by bridging the foregoing presentations with the Covid-19 crisis and the broader present, noting a common element of secret (or discreet) diplomacy within health diplomacy, questioning where science fits in the power structures surrounding Covid-19, and asking, frankly, who historically paid for the solutions and who should pay today? (These debate topics were singled out as the most striking per student evaluations.)

The nature of the conversation converged the prompts, with speakers and students debating the role of patents in driving or suppressing innovation and the diplomatic capacity for promoting science for a greater good. Is open science a feasible mantra in the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine, or are there benefits to a more discreet approach in health diplomacy?

Students quickly grasped modern parallels in Paillette and Le Roux’s historical case studies. Paillette’s case, for one, clearly depicted financial benefits of harmonizing outbreak measures across countries, such as quarantines, illustrating it saved both time and money.

Referring to the framing of periwinkle as a public good for global health in Le Roux’s case study, WSDS student Antonino Puglisi suggested a vaccine against Covid-19 should be equally accessible to all states. On the other hand, it is an immense challenge to present this idea to pharmaceutical companies and research institutions without diminishing the incentive (and financial capacity) to develop a vaccine.

Bertelsen took the suggestion further, labelling vaccines as ’hyper-public goods’. He noted the often misconstrued meanings of economic concepts, clarifying that ’public’ or ’private goods’ are not based on the source of funds. In fact, a ’public good’ is defined by the fact that its being in one person’s possession doesn’t impede another person from possessing it, while the opposite is true of ’private goods’. Meanwhile, a ’hyper-public good’ becomes more valuable the broader its use; examples include languages, social media and vaccines (the more people are vaccinated, the better protection it provides for the population).

Zvikomborero Manjengwah, another student, backed the argument for transparency and sharing in health diplomacy on the grounds that patents on medical resources can suppress the spirit of developing something good for humanity. He contrasted his experiences of grassroots innovation: creating a publically available ventilator design, constructed from easily accessible materials; and inventing a medical device in a Hack-a-thon team, only for a patent on one critical component to halt the entire project.

The debate was a lively back-and-forth that introduced a cerebral tone and dynamic spirit that would continue to grow during the rest of the summer school week. Students would go on to reflect on the modern applications of these historical cases (and two more), and emerge with policy and strategy recommendations for progressing science diplomacy.


Priding ourselves in the great diversity represented in our 2020 cohort of students, we were pleased to be joined by attendants in our Open Session from across the world.


Published 9 July 2020

DAY 1 WSDS 2020: Health Diplomacy Open Session
Monday 22 June 2020

About the Speakers: