The Parasitic Nature of Resilience: Advocating for Community Renewal in Public Health Preparedness

Dec 15, 2023 | News

The concept of community resilience, society’s ability to maintain essential functions, despite disturbance, is a cornerstone of public health preparedness. 

In an article recently published in Health Security entitled Parasitic Resilience: The Next Phase of Public Health Preparedness Must Address Power Imbalances Between Communities, authors argue that the current model for community resilience involves affluent communities depending on the labor of less privileged neighborhoods, resulting in exploitation, disparities, and what they call the parasitic nature of resilience

The article is co-authored by Mitch Stripling, Director of the NYC Pandemic Response Institute and Jordan Pascoe, Professor of Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies, and Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies at Manhattan College. The authors advocate for a paradigm shift from community resilience to community renewal, grounded in care ethics, addressing root causes of exploitation and promoting fairness in resource distribution. 

Readers interested in understanding ethical considerations in public health preparedness will find the article to be a compelling and insightful read. Below is a summary of key issues explored in the article.

Key Issues

  1. Exploitation of Essential Workers: Essential workers, such as delivery drivers, were disproportionately impacted during the pandemic. They faced increased risks, longer working hours, and inadequate support while ensuring that others could stay at home in more affluent neighborhoods. The article emphasizes the exploitative practices inherent in relying on such labor for emergency responses.
  2. Health Disparities and Injustice: The study reveals that the current community resilience model does not account for the sacrifices made by vulnerable populations, leading to health, financial, and moral injuries. The parasitic connection between affluent and less affluent communities contributes to health disparities, and the article calls for a focus on addressing the root cause of injustice in preparedness planning.
  3. Shift to Community Renewal: The article proposes a shift from the community resilience model to a community renewal model based on care ethics. This approach involves redesigning systems to be more prosocial during public health responses, acknowledging the interconnectedness of communities, and addressing the exploitation inherent in the current model.
  4. Care Ethics as a Framework: The article suggests adopting care ethics, a moral framework drawn from feminist bioethics, to guide public health emergency responses. Emphasizing shared vulnerability and dependency, urging a more responsive approach that prioritizes caring for vulnerable populations, and minimizing the parasitic nature of existing networks during emergencies.
  5. Care-focused Approach: The article recommends a care-focused approach that involves resourcing local caregivers fairly, holding employers accountable for the well-being of their employees, and ending the dependence of affluent communities on low-paid laborers. The goal is to prompt community renewal, decrease overall mortality, and address the power imbalances sustaining ongoing injustice.
  6. Utilize care chain analyses: In order to examine the relationships and dependencies between communities during public health emergencies, public health practitioners should analyze care chains. These analyses can improve vulnerability maps currently in use .
  7. Call for Societal Change: The article acknowledges the challenges of implementing such changes, recognizing the need for societal shifts. It points to advocacy groups, such as Justice for App Workers, as examples of the investment and energy needed to drive renewal in public health emergency responses.


Addressing the imbalances between communities in the next phase of public health preparedness calls for a community renewal that centers on the well-being of vulnerable populations, redistribution of resources, fair treatment of caregivers, and a concerted effort to end the dependency of affluent communities on low-paid laborers. 

Read the full article at Health Security. (paywall)