O'Neill Institute Papers

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The examination of public health law traditionally focuses on constitutions, statutes, regulations, and common law at the national and sub-national level. However, the determinants of health (e.g., pathogens, air, food, water, even lifestyle choices) do not originate solely within national borders. Health threats inexorably spread to neighboring countries, regions, and even continents. Peoples’ lives are profoundly affected by commerce, politics, science, and technology from all over the world. Global integration and interdependence occur “as capital, traded goods, persons, concepts, images, ideas, and values diffuse across state boundaries.” It is for this reason that law and policy need to be transnational, i.e., extending beyond sovereign nations. There is no other way to truly ensure the public’s health than through cooperation and global governance.

This chapter searches for answers as to why health hazards seem to change form and migrate everywhere on the earth; why extant global governance systems are frequently ineffective; and how international law can be used as a tool for improving the health of the world’s population, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. This requires an understanding of the global dimensions of disease and man’s role in harming the planet; the meaning and sources of international law; and modern international regimes of high relevance to health, including infectious diseases, tobacco, trade, and human rights.