Of plagues, planes, and politics: controlling the global spread of infectious diseases by air

2009-10-08T14:20:53Z (GMT) by Lucy Budd Morag Bell Tim Brown
In recent years, the implications of globalisation for the spread of infectious diseases has begun to emerge as an area of concern to political geographers. Unsurprisingly, much of the contemporary literature focuses on the multifarious threats posed by human and, increasingly, non-human mobility. Prompted by current geo-political concerns surrounding the public health implications of regular international air travel, this paper extends such research by exploring the ways in which the technology of the aeroplane stimulated the production of new international sanitary initiatives aimed at safeguarding global public health in an era of mass aeromobility. By tracing the development of sanitary regulations for aerial navigation, from their origins in the 1920s through the twentieth century in particular, we document the emergence of a series of public health interventions that were designed to limit the public health threat associated with increased international air travel and the concomitant rise in the mobility of infectious diseases. From inoculation certificates to quarantine and the routine ‘disinsection’ of passenger aircraft with powerful insecticides, modern air travel is replete with a complex set of procedures designed to lessen the risks associated with flying between different climatic and ecological zones. Our detailed examination of the historical context in which these procedures were devised and implemented leads us to consider the importance of time and space, power and efficacy, to the development of a more nuanced understanding of the shifting public health response to an increasingly fluid, mobile, and inter-connected society.