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Global health advocates often turn to medicine and science for solutions to enduring health risks, but law is also a powerful tool. No state acting alone can ward off health threats that span borders, requiring international solutions. A trilogy of global health law—the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, International Health Regulations (2005), and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework—strives for a safer, healthier, and fairer world. This article critically reviews this global health law trilogy.

These international agreements are not well understood, and contain gaps in scope and enforceability. Moreover, major health concerns remain largely unregulated at the international level, such as non-communicable diseases, mental health, and injuries. The article promotes the lessons learned from 21st century international health law, which are that broad scope, robust compliance, inclusion of public and private actors, and sustainable financing are essential to success. It further explores the notion that in an age of nationalistic populism, collective action remains vital to ameliorate globalized health threats, helping realize the right to health.

Reforms to the “trilogy” of global health laws are necessary to assure success and provide a critical roadmap for the World Health Organization’s next Director-General. The article concludes by calling on the new WHO D-G to take additional action toward a safer, healthier and fairer world by pushing for novel global health laws on major health hazards, including noncommunicable diseases, mental health and injuries, and new initiatives such as universal health care.

Publication Citation

Lawrence O. Gostin, Mary C. DeBartolo & Rebecca Katz, The Global Health Law Trilogy: Towards a Safer, Healthier, and Fairer World, The Lancet Online, May 15, 2017, at 1-9.