Pandemic 2.0.

The web can curb outbreaks of infectious diseases and change the way key actors interact

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Centre researchers have previously shown how the Internet can be used as early warning system for potential ecological disasters. Similarly, information and communication technology have profound repercussions on how actors collaborate across sectors and national boundaries.

Fundamentally improving disease detection
In an article to be published in November/December in Environment Magazine, centre researcher Victor Galaz has explored the potential of the internet and associated information technologies to improve early warnings and information sharing during emerging infectious diseases.

The scenario is familiar to most people today: an outbreak of an infectious disease leads to massive global media coverage immediately after. But that has not always been the case, and historically speaking it is a recent phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the development of new information technology.

- The need for early and reliable warning of pending infectious disease outbreaks has been a major concern for the global community since the creation of the first international health regulation in the mid-nineteenth century, when cholera epidemics overran Europe. Recent technological advancements are fundamentally improving the potential to detect surprising disease outbreaks, Galaz says.

Strengthening WHO
But new information technologies not only helps detecting and disseminating warnings of dangerous disease outbreaks, it may change the way international organisations, states and private actors interact.

- In an era of global environment and technological change, achieving governance for sustainability requires that we reflect on a range of information management challenges facing countries, organizations and international partnerships, Galaz says.

He uses the World Health Organization (WHO) as a prime example of the interplay between information technological change, global risks and global governance.

- WHO´s early-warning capacity is the result of a profound transformation in global health governance over the last decade. Surveillance systems and web crawlers that automatically and methodically browse the net for particular information have strengthened WHO´s role as the world´s health governance watchtower, says Galaz.

Galaz notes that the impacts of information technology for global governance goes beyond health issues. On the contrary, he writes, it is likely to have a range of repercussions for sustainability governance in general.

-As a result of emerging information technologies, communication is not as costly and difficult as it once was. While this recent technological transformation is no panacea, it can support innovative ways to overcome a rage of sustainability problems by facilitating cross-sectoral collaborations, and global scientific collaboration on issues such as Planetary Boundaries or ecosystems service assessment and management.

Not the silver bullet
Galaz admits that dealing with increasing rates of emerging infectious disease is a challenge that goes far beyond the international hype regarding Internet-based monitoring systems.

- Information and communications technology is useless unless the full array of political, demographic, technological and socio-ecological drivers that increase human health risks are also addressed, but hopefully we can use them wisely to meet the challenges facing us in the era of Anthropocene, he says.

See seminar video with Victor Galaz on resilience and governance challenges in dealing with multiple shocks:

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Victor Galaz

Staff details

Victor Galaz holds a Ph.D. in political science, and is currently working as a researcher and theme leader for Adaptive Governance of dynamic land - and seascapes at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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