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New publication: Research Handbook on Global Health Law

Date:18 January 2019
Author:GHLG Blog

By: Gian Luca Burci (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) and Brigit Toebes (University of Groningen)

A key concern in global health is the use of international health instruments and the complex interaction between international law and health considerations. The Research Handbook on Global Health Law, which we published in November 2018, brings together the work of 18 leading experts in this field. Whereas some of the experts focus on a specific component of global health law, such as infectious disease control and the human rights dimensions of HIV/AIDS, others analyse the protection of health under related branches of international law such as international trade law and international environmental law. Altogether, we have attempted to provide a comprehensive overview of the most important dimensions of global health law. We hope our approach will respond to the reference and research needs of both scholars and practitioners alike.

We have consciously adopted a holistic approach by including ‘soft law’ norms and informal law-making processes in the Research Handbook’s scope to give a realistic account of the overall normative framework that shapes contemporary global health. Despite following a predominantly legal perspective, the Research Handbook also adopts an interdisciplinary approach by looking at health from a governance perspective and using insights from international relations scholarship in forecasting possible future developments surrounding health law.

The editing of a Research Handbook on Global Health Law also came with some intellectual challenges. The further we advanced with our Handbook, the less confident we became about the conceptualization of global health law as a branch of international law. We must, therefore, conclude that global health law is a highly fragmented field with a limited number of core dedicated treaties, surrounded by less definable boundaries and parameters. We are unsure of whether it is appropriate to call global health law an existing branch of public international law, or rather a systematic approach to the normative role of health in international law and a conceptual effort to clarify and systematize approaches and parameters.

Having said this, we still very much believe in the project of global health law. We argue that it is extremely important that health is protected as a paramount social value as well as a human right in international law so as to counterbalance the interests of increasing global trade and economic liberalization, for example. We believe that global health law can serve as an effective cornerstone in the protection of health and human dignity both globally and domestically, provided that its legal contours and implications are carefully scrutinised and identified. Global health law is a diamond in the rough that requires further polishing, and it is our ambition and expectation that this Handbook makes a worthwhile contribution to this goal and may serve as a stepping stone for further research.

Gian Luca Burci and Brigit Toebes (eds), Research Handbook on Global Health Law (Edward Elgar Publishing 2018).


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