Medical Populism in the Asia Pacific

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Book Chapter

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This chapter uses the concept of medical populism to understand how political actors perform in public health crises. As a political style, medical populism is grounded in the politicization of a health-related issue and its portrayal as a public emergency in need of urgent intervention. Three case studies illustrate how medical populists spectacularize health crises through the invocation of knowledge claims, deployment of highly dramatic responses, and forging of societal divisions: (i) the 'war on drugs' in Thailand launched in 2003 by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra; (ii) the dengue vaccine controversy that unfolded in the Philippines in late 2017; and (iii) the first 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This chapter concludes with a reflection on the implications of medical populism for health policy, governance, and crisis communications.