International cooperation in the fight against epidemics has a long history. As world trade intensified in the second half of the 19th century, so did the international flow of information on epidemics — specifically plague, yellow fever and cholera. An effort was made at the time to collect, share and standardize this information between different states, especially between diplomatic and health administrations. By the time of the outbreak of plague in Oporto in 1899, international health regulations had already been drawn up in order to harmonise quarantine, inspection and disinfection measures. This cooperation was done in the name of a dual-pronged common interest: both the protection of public health and the preservation of economic interests. The main idea was that it was necessary to prevent the spread of diseases while still allowing the flow of people and goods to take place. Such cooperation was dependent upon not only scientific and technological background, but also the economic and political context of international relations. Over the course of time, and in light of multiple epidemics and experiences of cooperation, international institutions to facilitate these goals emerged: an example is the International Office of Public Hygiene in Paris, founded in 1907, which is considered to be a distant precursor of the WHO.
PhD Candidate in History of International Relations at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, UMR Sirice
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