Global Governance, International Health Law and WHO: Looking towards the Future. (Theme Papers)

Article excerpt

Abstract The evolving domain of international health law encompasses increasingly diverse and complex concerns. Commentators agree that health development in the twenty-first century is likely to expand the use of conventional international law to create a framework for coordination and cooperation among states in an increasingly interdependent world. This article examines the forces and factors behind the emerging expansion of conventional international health law as an important tool for present and future multilateral cooperation. It considers challenges to effective international health cooperation posed for intergovernmental organizations and other actors involved in lawmaking. Although full consolidation of all aspects of future international health lawmaking under the auspices of a single international organization is unworkable and undesirable, the World Health Organization (WHO) should endeavour to serve as a coordinator, catalyst and, where appropriate, platform for future health law codification. Such leadership by WHO could enhance coordination, coherence and implementation of international health law policy.

Keywords Treaties; International law; Legislation, Health; World health; International cooperation; Intersectoral cooperation; World Health Organization (source: MeSH, NLM).

Mots cles Traites; Droit international; Legislation sanitaire; Sante mondiale; Cooperation internationale; Cooperation intersectorielle; Organisation mondiale de la Sante (source: MeSH, INSERM).

Palabras clave Tratados; Derecho internacional; Legislacion sanitaria; Salud mundial; Cooperacion internacional; Cooperacion intersectorial; Organizacion Mundial de la Salud (fuente: DeCS, BIREME).

Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2002;80:975-980.


The planetary context of development has profound implications for global public health and, concomitantly, international health law--particularly conventional international treaty law. Today, the burgeoning field of international health law encompasses increasingly diverse and complex concerns, including aspects of biomedical science, human reproduction and cloning, disability, infectious and noncommunicable disease, and safety control for health services, foods and pharmaceuticals (1, 2). Furthermore, international health law is increasingly recognized as integrally linked to most other traditionally defined realms of international legal concern.

Despite growing awareness of the capacity of conventional international law to complement national action and other forms of international collaboration, and serve as a dynamic tool for multilateral health cooperation in an increasingly interdependent world, little scholarly consideration has been paid to how twenty-first century global health lawmaking should be managed from an international institutional basis. With a plethora of international organizations sharing lawmaking authority for global health and with other health actors engaged in the international legislative process, international lawmaking shows potential for fragmented, uncoordinated and inefficient sprawl.

This article examines the forces and factors behind the expansion of conventional international health law and argues that the World Health Organization (WHO) can help enhance the development of rational and effective international health law. Conventional international law is the primary international legal vehicle by which international organizations can advance international cooperation to improve global health status and reduce the global burden of disease, so the article focuses on treaty law rather than other sources of international law.

The evolution of international health law Globalization and the expanding domain of international health law

Globalization is the process of increasing economic, political and social interdependence, and global integration that occurs as capital, traded goods, people, concepts, images, ideas and values diffuse across national boundaries (3). …


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