Larry Gostin: Raising the Bar on Global Health Governance

September 15, 2010
Lawrence Gostin

Lawrence Gostin

This evening I board a plane for Berlin, where the German Bundestag (the National Parliament) will be holding a hearing on our unique plan to create a new global health governance architecture. The Joint Learning Initiative on National and Global Responsibilities for Health (JLI) – a global partnership of civil society and academia in the North and South – adopts a human rights approach to global health governance. Few people may realize that the right to health is enshrined in global law and asserted in the constitutions of at least 135 nations around the world. The human right to health can be a powerful instrument for achieving better health outcomes for the world’s poorest people. But it needs a systematic approach with effective measures of success and means of enforcement.

Today, global health law is rapidly evolving in response to an obvious need: law should be used as a critical tool to improve global health, infusing it with energy, transparency, consistency, and coherence.  The Joint Learning Initiative is now being considered by partners in states such as Germany, Norway, India, and South Africa, and in international organizations such as the World Health Organization. 

The JLI aims to provide solutions to four critical challenges: defining a core package of essential health services and goods to which all people have a right; clarifying states’ duties toward their own inhabitants; exploring all states’ responsibilities toward the world’s poor; and proposing a global architecture to improve health as a matter of social justice.  The WHO Bulletin will publish an editorial on the JLI in October and the World Health Report 2011 will feature our new global partnership.

Only by addressing these challenges can we hope to solve the underlying challenges of unnecessary disease and death: the eight million children who die before age five every year, the half-a-million women who die in pregnancy or childbirth, the more than four million people who die of AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis and the mounting burden of preventable and treatable injuries and diseases in the developed and developing worlds.

 The Joint Learning Initiative is the product of many people and institutions—not least of which are universities.  Indeed, universities in South Africa, Argentina, Belgium, China, Australia, and the United States have all played key roles.  And universities will continue to help shape global health law as an essential tool in the realization of the right to health and to social justice.  From Germany I will fly to Seattle, for the conference of the Consortium of University on Global Health.  I expect this conference to carry the discussion and the ideas forward, to propel their development through the kind of interdisciplinary exchange and creativity that is the very oxygen of universities.  It is the oxygen we need, and I look forward to joining with my academic partners from throughout the world to ensure dynamic and effective global health governance.      

Lawrence O. Gostin
Linda and Timothy O’Neill Professor of Global Health Law
Georgetown University

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