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Contesting a Pandemic: The WHO and the Council of Europe

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    Rights statement: Sudeepa Abeysinghe (2016): Contesting a Pandemic: The WHO and the Council of Europe, Science as Culture, DOI:10.1080/09505431.2016.1212825

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-184
Number of pages23
JournalScience as Culture
Issue number2
Early online date19 Sep 2016
StatePublished - 22 Mar 2017


Contemporary risks are often understood as fundamentally uncertain. This uncertain status can be mobilized within political debates surrounding risks. Such a challenge serves to destablise scientific claims. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) management of the 2009/10 spread of the H1N1 virus became a site of one such contestation. Debate within the Council of Europe particularly served to criticize the action of the WHO. This resulted in a definitional and policy contestation between the two institutions. The WHO accounted for its actions through allusions to (seemingly stable) scientific facts , using epidemiological evidence of influenza and its management based on normal science . In contrast, in criticising public expenditure and panic, the Council of Europe critics problematised the stability of the science employ ed by the WHO . T his included fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge such as the measurability of morbidity and mortality caused by H1N1 and the effect of vaccination against influenza viruses . This criticism relied upon the ability to destabilise the WHO’s scientific knowledge, a process made possible through understandings of the uncertain nature of the science of risk (post - normal science). The case study illustrates that potential for previous - established and seemingly stable scientific facts t o become destablised and problematised during contestations of risk management .

    Research areas

  • contestation, influenza, World Health Organization, Council of Europe, sociology

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