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Global Health Law

Protecting health on a global scale raises tremendous challenges, varying from the control of infectious diseases, to tackling risk factors for chronic diseases, ensuring access to proper care, and addressing the harmful effects of environmental degradation and climate change. Law is a powerful tool to protect the health of the world’s population from these threats. For a proper understanding of how international law protects health, it is important to identify the relevant international legal standards and analyse how they address and protect global health. Among scholars and practitioners in the fields of law and governance, there is increasing talk of ‘global health law’ as a distinct branch of international law. What does this emerging field consist of, and what are the synergies and tensions within this hybrid and fragmented set of standards?

Taken as a whole, global health law consists of a limited set of binding and non-binding instruments adopted in the framework of the WHO, and a range of hard and soft law standards recognized in other branches of international law, including human rights law, international humanitarian law, international environmental law, and international trade, property and investment law.

Human rights standards are an important fundament of global health law. Human rights standards defend individual interests such as the dignity, well-being and health of the individual against other powerful demands, including international trade and commerce, patent protection, production of goods, the aggressive marketing of unhealthy products, environmental degradation for the sake of profit, and even the devastating effects of warfare.

GCHL analyzes the scope and implications of global health law as an emerging branch of public international law. It seeks to explain how health-related challenges interact with various branches of international law, and assess the interaction between these diverse fields.


  • Brigit Toebes, ‘National Measures under the International Health Regulations - Articles 19-43, Annexes 3-9’, in Gian Luca Burci, Ginevra Le Moli, Jorge E. Viñuales (eds.), The Interntional Health Regulations: Analysis and Commentary, forthcoming with Oxford University Press
  • Brigit Toebes and Meaghan Beyer, ‘The Origins and Scope of Global Health Law’, in Health Law Disrupted: Covid-19 and the Climate Crisis, Collected Papers KNVIR, No. 148; T.M.C. Asser Press, 2021
  • Gian Luca Burci and Brigit Toebes (eds.), Research Handbook on Global Health Law, Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018
  • Brigit Toebes, Schets van het internationaal gezondheidsrecht [a sketch of international health law], Tijdschrift voor Gezondheidsrecht , 2016, 40(8), 513-526
  • Brigit Toebes, International Health Law: an Emerging Field of Public International Law, Indian Journal of International Law, 2015, 55(3), 299-328


Global Health Law Committee, International Law Association (ILA)

Last modified:17 August 2023 1.02 p.m.