Centre for Global Health Policy

The emerging global crisis of antimicrobial resistance

Towards a research agenda for International Relations

Date:   Monday 29 February 2016
Venue:  Department of Politics, University of Sheffield
Sponsor: ESRC Seminar series on ‘Global Health Security’ (PI: Prof. Stefan Elbe, Centre for Global Health Policy, University of Sussex)
Organiser: Dr. Simon Rushton, University of Sheffield simon.rushton@sheffield.ac.uk



The growing prevalence of pathogens resistant to existing antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials has become an increasingly prominent issue in global health and security policy discussions. Many fear that the spread of resistant microbes could pose a worldwide threat to human and national security – ushering in a ‘post-antibiotic era’.

In 2013, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, released a report highlighting the threat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) posed to the UK, and in response it was placed on the government’s National Risk Register, making it a cross-government priority. Barack Obama identified AMR as “one of the most pressing public health issues facing the world today” and the United States, like many other countries has adopted a national strategy to address the problem. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, has launched a ‘global action plan’ designed to galvanize and guide the international response to this looming crisis.

In 2014 Research Councils UK (RCUK) launched a major cross-Council initiative on AMR, with the ESRC leading on the contribution of social scientists to those discussions. This workshop aims to bring together scholars primarily drawn from International Relations to feed into that thinking from an IR disciplinary perspective.

Whilst much of the discussion to date has focused on the scientific challenges of developing new drugs (and the associated policy challenge of stimulating R&D to that end), it is clear that AMR is an inherently global challenge because:

·     The resistant pathogens have the potential to move globally;

·     Many of the underlying drivers of the AMR challenge are international in scope;

·     The pharmaceutical companies producing new medicines operate internationally and within a global political economy;

·     There are particular AMR challenges in low- and middle-income countries; and

·     Meaningful collective action will require coordinated international responses to succeed.

AMR, in short, is not just a medical-scientific problem but also a quintessentially international political challenge.

Already broader work on the global politics of health has grappled with many of the issues that go to the heart of the AMR challenge, including around the International Political Economy of pharmaceutical production and consumption; the relationship between health threats and human and national security; global governance mechanisms designed to tackle cross-border threats; and the ways in which the global distribution of power and resources relates to the determinants of health in different places. IR therefore has much to offer in terms of understanding the nature of the global problem posed by AMR and thinking about potential responses to it. The purpose of this workshop is to begin to tease out that potential contribution and to outline a IR research agenda on AMR.


Aims and format

While a small number of IR scholars have begun to examine the AMR issue, the discipline has not to date systematically engaged with it. This workshop aims to stimulate such engagement, mapping the (potential) contours of IR’s engagement with the AMR issue and stimulating further research from the IR field.

As such, the workshop will not be structured around the presentation of pre-prepared papers. Rather, we aim to generate a free-flowing round-table discussion.

A selection of background papers relevant to the topic will be circulated to the participants in advance. Each participant will be asked to come to the workshop prepared with a 1-2 page position paper that addresses:

·     How, if at all, does your prior research relate to the challenge of AMR?

·     What broader lessons from the study of global health might also be relevant to the challenge of AMR?

·     What key research questions, and what conceptual and methodological approaches, might IR more generally bring to the issue of AMR?

As such, participants will not be limited to those with an existing body of work on AMR specifically, but rather will be selected to ensure that the variety and richness of IR’s engagement with global health is well represented.


Anticipated Outputs

The workshop will aim to stimulate both individual and collective research amongst the participants on the international politics of the AMR issue.

In terms of tangible outputs, the following will arise from the workshop:

·     Each participant will be invited to record a short ‘talking head’ video (2 minutes max) in which they will be asked to make three key points on the AMR issue from their perspective. These videos will be posted online and are expected to be a valuable resource for other scholars working in the field, and potentially as a teaching aid.

·     A report of the workshop will be written and posted online, as well as shared with the ESRC to feed into their AMR-related work.

In addition, the final workshop session will be devoted to discussing the possibilities of other forms of output. A similarly-structured workshop examining the global response to Ebola held in November 2014 at the University of Sussex was a highly successful event, leading amongst other things to a journal special issue and to two open letters (published in The Lancet and on the Open Democracy blog site) setting out the potential contribution IR could make to discussions of the issue. We are hoping that similar outputs may emerge from this event.


Watch the film



For more information please contact Simon Rushton: simon.rushton@sheffield.ac.uk.

(Page content kindly created by Simon Rushton)