Global Health and the Law
The last two decades have brought revolutionary changes in global health, driven by popular concern over AIDS, novel influenzas, and maternal mortality. Given the rapid globalization that is a defining feature of today’s world, the need for a robust system of global health law has never been greater. Global health law has been defined as the legal norms, processes, and institutions designed primarily to attain the highest possible standard of physical and mental health for the world’s population. Global health law is not an organized legal system, with a unified treaty monitoring body, such as the World Trade Organization. There is, however, a network of treaties and “soft” law instruments that powerfully affect global health—many of which arise under the auspices of the World Health Organization. See Lawrence O. Gostin, Global Health Law (Harvard University Press, 2014).
The WHO is the most important institution for negotiating international health agreements. Despite WHO’s normative powers, modern international health law is remarkably thin, with only two major treaties adopted since the agency’s creation, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the International Health Regulations. Despite the potential of “soft” and “hard” instruments to set norms and mobilize multiple actors, global health law-making has major limitations: states are loath to constrain themselves and, therefore, often reject international law or agree only to weak norms; high-income states are reluctant to finance capacity building in lower-income states or provide un-earmarked funding to WHO; and compliance mechanisms are often weak or non-existent. However, global health law, despite its limitations, remains vital to achieving global health with justice.
Gostin, Lawrence O. and Sridhar, Devi, "Global Health and the Law" (2014). O'Neill Institute Papers. 60.