Towards a Framework Convention on Global Health

Article excerpt

Introduction

What will it take to eliminate the gross health inequities that continue to plague the world, the unconscionable health gaps between the rich and poor? The eyes of the global health community are focused on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, with the World Health Organization [WHO] advocating for universal health coverage. Adding healthy life expectancy as an overarching goal would capture the broader determinants of health and offer a richer integration of multiple sectors. Beyond improving health, the United Nations [UN] should focus on equity, human rights, inclusive participation and accountability, (2) The stage is set for the post-2015 agenda to embrace global health with justice--improving healthy lives for everyone, with particular attention to marginalized communities.

The sustainable development agenda, however, cannot achieve global health with justice without robust global governance. We urge adoption of a legally binding global health treaty--a framework convention on global health grounded in the right to health. What are the purposes and content of a framework convention and how can such a treaty help to achieve global health with justice? And what steps need to be taken to galvanize support for its adoption and implementation? This perspectives paper seeks to spark international dialogue on a framework convention on global health and to explore the pathways towards a global health treaty.

Core purposes and content

The Millennium Development Goals were instrumental in achieving considerable progress in global health, but they failed to close the health gap. The overriding purpose of a framework convention on global health would be to dramatically reduce the health disadvantages experienced by the marginalized and the poor, both within countries and between them, while reducing health injustices across the socioeconomic gradient. Guided by principles underlying the right to health and mutual responsibility, a framework convention would universally ensure three conditions that are essential for a healthy life: a well-functioning health system providing quality health care; a full range of public health services, such as nutritious food, clean water, and a healthy environment; and broader economic and social conditions conducive to good health, such as employment, housing, income support and gender equality.

Substantial improvements in health would be achieved through a population-based strategy centred on the essential conditions for the public's health, ranging from food, water and clean air to hygienic conditions, injury prevention and liveable communities conducive to physical activity and to healthful eating habits. By embedding the conditions for good health within the environment and bringing these benefits to everyone, including the poorest and most remote communities, public health services would give everyone a fair chance for a healthy life. Universal access to all levels of health care [community services and primary, secondary and tertiary care] and to financial protection [to prevent impoverishment and catastrophic health expenditures] would afford everyone the services needed to prevent and treat injury and disease. Importantly, policies and actions across the full spectrum of government ministries are needed to ensure education, employment, housing, clean energy, transportation, gender equity and all other positive social determinants of health.

A framework convention would establish a health financing framework with clear obligations, and would create an accountability regime with robust standards, monitoring and enforcement. It would advance health justice through engaging marginalized and underserved populations in making and evaluating policies and through comprehensive strategies and targeted interventions designed to overcome the barriers that prevent these populations from enjoying the conditions required for good health. …

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