Global health, accelerated: Rapid diagnostics and the fragile solidarities of ‘emergency R&D’

Ann H. Kelly*, Javier Lezaun, Alice Street

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


A new paradigm of emergency R&D has transformed global health. Beginning with the 2014–2016 Ebola virus disease epidemic in West Africa, experimental product development has been propelled to the frontlines of outbreak response, radically compressing timelines and unsettling regulatory standards, biosecurity strategies and humanitarian protocols. This paper examines these emerging epistemic practices and ethical norms as they played out in the creation of rapid diagnostic tests for Ebola, Zika and COVID-19. In each of these viral public health crises, new platforms for quick detection have been the principal load-bearing pillar of outbreak response, and the effort to speed up their development illuminates the fragile set of accommodations between public health needs and commercial interests that obtain under conditions of emergency. The World Health Organization’s role in stimulating and coordinating the development of these tools provides our analytical through-line, and reveals, we argue, the limitations of an accelerationist model of global health innovation organized around the concept of ‘market failure’. The evolution of this paradigm of ‘emergency R&D’ into a permanent feature of pandemic preparedness will further narrow our imagination of how global health goods should be construed and provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-210
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • diagnostics
  • global health
  • market failure
  • solidarity
  • WHO


Dive into the research topics of 'Global health, accelerated: Rapid diagnostics and the fragile solidarities of ‘emergency R&D’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this