Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

1. Global Public Goods and Health: concepts and issues

David Woodward, Richard D Smith


What is a Global Public Good?

A public good with quasi-universal benefits in terms of:

  • Countries -more than one group of countries
  • People -accruing to several, preferably all, population groups
  • Generations -extending to both current without foreclosing development options for future generations (UNDP, 1999)

The UNDP defines a global public good as “a public good with benefits that are strongly universal in terms of countries (covering more than one group of countries), people (accruing to several, preferably all, population groups) and generations (extending to both current and future generations, or at least meeting the needs of current generations without foreclosing development options for future generations).” (Kaul et al. 1999, pp 509-10; emphasis added)
However, this is problematic for three reasons:
(i) it does not make explicit the distinction between cross-border and within-country externalities, so includes a public good whose benefits are limited to the country in which it is provided, so long as any country which provides it benefits from it;
(ii) the implications of ‘strong universality’ in terms of population groups could mean that women’s health programmes, those effecting certain races or those effecting only the poor would all be excluded;
(iii) the requirement that neither present nor future generations should be harmed creates a ‘temporal stalemate’ whereby programmes which only benefit current and future generations equally are acceptable.
Thus, disease eradication programmes would be excluded (requiring reallocation of resources from present generation to benefit the next generation).
GPGs may therefore be considered to be goods exhibiting a significant degree of publicness (i.e. non-excludability and non-rivalry) across national boundaries (and thus not necessarily population or generational boundaries).

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