A convention for global governance of international health is required to safeguard the world's population, according to leading health law expert professor Lawrence Gostin.
Gostin, who is a professor of law at Georgetown University and professor of public health at the John Hopkins University, told audience members at a public seminar held at Sydney Universityon 6 Augustthat the future looks bleak for ameliorating common causes of disease, disability and premature death.
"The States that bear the disproportionate burden of disease have the least capacity to do anything about it. When rich countries do act, it is often more out of narrow self-interest or humanitarian instinct than a full sense of ethical or legal obligation." he said.
"The result is a spiraling deterioration of health in the poorest regions, with manifest global consequences for cross-border disease transmission and systemic affects on trade, international relations and security."
Gostin argued that international law should be used in an innovative way to structure international obligations, requiring States to accede to a new model.
"A vehicle such as a Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) could be a starting point. Such a Framework Convention would commit States to a set of targets, both economic and logistical, and dismantle barriers to constructive engagement by the private and charitable sectors," he said.
"A FCGH could set achievable goals for global health spending as a proportion of GNP; define areas of cost effective investment to meet basic survival needs; build sustainable health systems; and create incentives for scientific innovation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) or a newly created institution could set ongoing standards, monitor progress, and mediate disputes."
Gostin critisised WHO's inaction in the international law sphere, despite its powers to adopt binding conventions requiring States to take action within 18 months or to adopt regulations that are binding on member states unless they proactively opt out.
"Despite WHO's impressive normative powers, modern international health law is remarkably thin, with only one significant regulation and one treaty in 60 years of existence," he said.
However, no State or stakeholder, acting alone, can avert the ubiquitous threats of pathogens as they rapidly migrate and change forms, he noted ominously.
"If all States and stakeholders voluntarily accepted fair terms of cooperation through a FCGH, then it could dramatically improve life prospects for millions of people. But it would do more than that. Cooperative action for global health, like global warming, benefits everyone by diminishing collective vulnerabilities."
- Sarah Sharples