Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

8. International Health Regulations and Epidemic Control

Johan Giesecke


GPGH concept useful in:

  • analysing problems of global CDC in terms of ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ and ‘free riding’
  • highlighting need for new IHR to make all decisions on measures as transparent and predictable as possible
  • suggesting that the final GPGH of CDC depends upon ‘access goods’

How, if at all, does the thinking and terminology around global public goods help in the analysis of the IHR process? To someone unfamiliar with the field, it could be tempting to regard the GPGH discussions as a somewhat elaborated attempt to put labels on rather obvious facts. However, there are elements of the GPGH concept that make for clearer thinking. For example, it is instructive to analyse the problems of global epidemic control in terms of the potential for, and possible solutions of, the 'prisoners' dilemma' and 'free riding'. The GPGH concept thus highlights the need for a new IHR to make all decisions on measures as transparent and predictable as possible, thus alleviating the dilemma for the prisoners.

The GPGH analysis also suggests that the final goal of the control of epidemics is only achievable by goods (e.g. surveillance and vaccination) that are largely private or club goods. It is therefore vital to understand the fundamental nature of 'access goods' in supporting a GPGH such as the IHR: there is little point in having a binding international agreement if countries cannot physically comply with it through lack of infrastructure, personnel, or other resources. There are large costs coupled to a dependable global surveillance system.

Overall then, a functioning IHR should be seen as an enabling good, one that provides a foundation to solving the core GPGH problem of epidemic control.