Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

7. International Law

David P Fidler


Use of international law in the production of GPGH (1)

States use international law to:

  • construct formal institutions empowered to work on global public health problems
  • establish procedures through which actors deal with specific global public health problems create mechanisms to enforce substantive legal duties against states that accept them
  • craft substantive duties in connection with particular
  • global public health challenges

State uses international law:

  • To construct formal institutions empowered to work on global public health problems (eg WHO, UNEP, ILO).
  • To establish procedures through which states and non-state actors come to grips with specific global public health problems (eg IHR process through which WHO member states attempt to achieve maximum protection against international disease spread with minimum interference with world traffic).
  • To craft substantive duties in connection with particular global public health challenges (eg IHR obligate WHO member states to notify WHO of specific disease outbreaks and to restrict health-protecting trade measures to specified responses).
  • To create mechanisms to enforce substantive legal duties against states that accept them (eg WTO's dispute settlement mechanism).

These 4 uses of international law in the production of GPGH differ in the breadth and depth of their impact on global public health problems. The institutional approach offers breadth of coverage, as illustrated by the myriad public health problems dealt with by the WHO, and breadth of membership, as evidenced by the WHO's near universal membership. While making such breadth possible, the WHO Constitution lacks depth in terms of the legal obligations of member states with respect to any given public health problem.

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