Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

1. Global Public Goods and Health: concepts and issues

David Woodward, Richard D Smith


Three key aspects of GPGs applied to health:

  • The importance of access goods
  • Health per se is not a GPG
  • GPGs are horizontal in nature.

The concept of global public goods has been explained, and it’s application to health considered here. This analysis highlights three key aspects of GPGs as applied to health.
1. The importance of ‘access goods’: private goods required to enable the public good to be fully accessed and/or utilised. Policies to improve the provision of public goods will be limited, or fail, and as such some goods, which are patently not public according to the strict definition, must nevertheless be classified as if they were public goods to ensure that the public good itself is consumed.
2. Health per se is not a GPG, but a private good, although one which may provide substantial positive externalities. Thus health is taken as an objective to be achieved, rather than as a means to achieve something else. The two caveats to this involve the role of communicable disease control as a GPG per se, and the significant positive economic externalities which result from health making health sufficiently important to qualify as being treated as a GPG.
3. The ‘horizontal’ nature of GPGs. The primary ‘horizontal’ GPGH identified were knowledge and policy and regulatory regimes, with health systems being deemed such fundamental access goods to be included as if they were a GPG. These are very much ‘horizontal’ goods. An important contribution of the GPG concept is that it places such horizontal issues back in the centre of policy discussions, as a compliment to the historical focus upon more ‘vertical’ streams.