Politics and Pathogens: America’s Inability to Escape the Politicization of Infectious Disease




Hawkins, Madeline

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In the face of an emerging global pandemic, it’s no secret that the United States failed miserably in its initial response. The country met the encroaching disease with ignorance, allowing transmission to multiply and victims to suffer. And a response like that one is nothing new. In fact, the U.S. has a long-standing history of politicizing infectious disease. In this thesis, I will argue that such politicization is an innate, subconscious feature that the country possesses, regardless of the leader in power. To do so, I will first present the United States’ health care system in comparison with those of its peer nations, as the U.S. is the only one without universal coverage. Second, I will introduce the reasons behind the lack of universal care, including America’s core philosophies, overestimation of upward economic mobility, and rigid structure. Third, I will illustrate a manifestation of this argument, outlining the initial outbreaks of HIV/AIDS in the United States and the United Kingdom. Both leaders, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had very similar ideologies, yet their responses to the epidemics were vastly different. Because of this, I argue that the differences in their respective health systems are to blame. Lastly, I will compare the HIV/AIDS outbreak with the situation in the U.S. today, given changes such as the Affordable Care Act and the outbreak of COVID-19. The United States still suffers from its government’s politicization of infectious disease, and it’s highly worrisome in the face of the next inevitable disease outbreak.



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