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Ethics and Economics of Medical Supplies in the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 15, 2021

Ethics and Economics of Medical Supplies in the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 15, 2021

By Hansong Li and Yifei Wu


The distribution of healthcare resources across local and global communities has triggered alarms throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Injustice and inefficiency in the transfer of lifesaving medical supplies are magnified by the urgency of the public health crisis, ramified through pre-existing socioeconomic tensions, and further aggravated by frictions that plague international cooperation and global governance.


Aim: This article explores the ethical and economic dimensions of medical supplies, from the microcosm of distributive algorithms to the macroscope of medical trade.


Methods: It first analyses the performance, strategy, and social responsibility of ventilator-suppliers through a series of case studies. Then, the authors seek to redress the need-insensitivity of existing distributive models with a new price-based and need-conscious algorithm. Next, the paper empirically traces the exchange of medical supplies across borders, examines the effect of trade disputes on medical reliance and pandemic preparedness, and makes a game-theoretical case for sharing critical resources with foreign communities.


Conclusion: The authors argue that the equitable allocation of medical supplies must consider the contexts and conditions of need; that political barriers to medical transfers undermine a government’s capacity to contain the contagion by reducing channels of access to medical goods; and that self-interested public policies often turn out to be counterproductive geopolitical strategies. In the post-pandemic world, the prospect of medical justice demands a balanced ethical and economic approach that cuts across the borders of nation-states and the bounds of the private sector and the public sphere.

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About the Author

Hansong  Li

Hansong Li

Graduate Student Affiliate, Dissertation Workshop Coordinator & EHPS Advisor

His research covers political thought, legal theories, and economic ideas in international relations and global exchanges. In the past, he has published studies on the normative reimaginations ofancient spaces of politics, commerce ...
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