(Re-) conceptualising vulnerability as a part of risk in global health emergency response: updating the pressure and release model for global health emergencies

Charlotte Christiane Hammer, Julii Brainard, Alexandria Innes, Paul R Hunter
Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2019, 16: 2
Vulnerability has become a key concept in emergency response research and is being critically discussed across several disciplines. While the concept has been adopted into global health, its conceptualisation and especially its role in the conceptualisation of risk and therefore in risk assessments is still lacking. This paper uses the risk concept pioneered in hazard research that assumes that risk is a function of the interaction between hazard and vulnerability rather than the neo-liberal conceptualisation of vulnerability and vulnerable groups and communities. By seeking to modify the original pressure and release model, the paper unpacks the representation or lack of representation of vulnerability in risk assessments in global health emergency response and discusses what benefits can be gained from making the underlying assumptions about vulnerability, which are present whether vulnerability is sufficiently conceptualised and consciously included or not, explicit. The paper argues that discussions about risk in global health emergencies should be better grounded in a theoretical understanding of the concept of vulnerability and that this theoretical understanding needs to inform risk assessments which implicitly used the concept of vulnerability. By using the hazard research approach to vulnerability, it offers an alternative narrative with new perspectives on the value and limits of vulnerability as a concept and a tool.


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