Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

1. Global Public Goods and Health: concepts and issues

David Woodward, Richard D Smith

Is health a GPG?

  • Health per se is not a public good:
    one person's (or one country's) health status primarily benefits them
    goods and services necessary to provide and sustain health are predominantly rival and excludable

  • BUT, two important externality aspects of health have GPG properties.

    Health per se is not a public good, either individually or nationally. One person’s (or one country’s) health status is a private good in the sense that he/she (or it) is the primary beneficiary of it.
    To illustrate this, consider the parallel of a garden: if someone cultivates an attractive garden in front of his/her house, passers-by will benefit from seeing it; but it remains a private good, the main beneficiary of which is the owner, who sees more of it, and is able to spend time in it. An individual’s health remains primarily of benefit to that individual, although there may be some (positive or negative) externalities resulting from it, such as exposure to communicable disease.
    Further, in terms of the goods and services which are necessary to provide and sustain health, such as food, shelter and use of curative health services, ‘health’ is often rival and excludable between individuals and nations.
    Nonetheless, there are two important externality aspects of health, both at the local level and across national borders, which may be amenable to conceptualising as having GPG properties