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May 7, 2019

New Study Shows How Law Can Advance Global Health Rights

How law can be used to advance global health is the subject of a newly released report by Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and The Lancet journals.

Timothy J. O'Neill, co-founder of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law
Timothy J. O'Neill, co-founder of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law

The report, The Legal Determinants of Health: Harnessing the Power of Law for Global Health and Sustainable Development, makes an innovative case for the power of law to improve health and challenge the status quo.

It appears in The Lancet, a family of world-class journals committed to improving lives through medical research, and is authored by members of the new The Lancet – O’Neill Institute, Georgetown University Commission on Global Health and the Law.

Timothy J. O’Neill, co-founder of the O’Neill Institute, noted how the report responded to the core reasons the institute was founded during an event launching the study.

“There’s an underutilized capacity of the law to influence all the missions of global health, whether it’s access, affordability, compliance...and global health with justice,” said O’Neill.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

International experts in fields ranging from health, policy, and law to economics and governance say the study’s interdisciplinary insights are especially valuable to global health practitioners.

“Legal frameworks for health is not just a matter for lawyers, it’s the job of policymakers, regulators, parliamentarians, health workers, and communities,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization and Ethiopia’s former minister of health and minister of foreign affairs, during his video introduction.

Interdisciplinary research is fundamental to the mission of the O’Neill Institute, as well as to Georgetown’s broader ethos as it seeks solutions for the world’s most pressing issues.

“The great policy issues of the day require interdisciplinary answers,” said William M. Treanor, executive vice president and dean of Georgetown University Law Center. “The time to just have legal solutions or medical solutions has passed.”

Left to right: Lawrence Gostin, Matthew Kavanaugh, Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, Victor Dzau, and Bruce Gellin
Left to right: Lawrence Gostin, Matthew Kavanaugh, Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, Victor Dzau, and Bruce Gellin

The Right to Health

Experts on diplomacy, infectious disease, global health security, and health administration presented at the event, demonstrating how the new framework proposed in the report can be utilized to advance the right to health globally.

Timothy Westmoreland, professor from practice at Georgetown Law and former director of the Medicaid program, discussed how law is not only the work of legislators, but that “administrative law appeals are the forefront of preserving the revolution in public health.”

Lindsay Wiley, the director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University, acknowledged the tactics that can be learned from other health movements and proposed ethical coordination with health justice activists.

“When I think about health justice, I look to the lessons of other activist movements—environmental justice, reproductive justice, even food justice,” said Wiley. “There’s a risk that we’re colonizing the work of experts who know far more about those areas than we do, but finding ways to link up these efforts can be very valuable.”

“This moment underscores Georgetown University’s deep commitment to global health and social justice,” said Edward B. Healton, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean at the School of Medicine. “We recognize that the solution to many global and public health challenges often lies at the intersection of health and science with law and policy, and so it’s fundamentally an interdisciplinary enterprise.”

‘Global Health with Justice’

Lawrence O. Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute, recognized that developments in public health must benefit the public equitably.

“The founding idea of the O’Neill Institute is what I like to call ‘global health with justice,’ and that’s what this commission does,” said Gostin. “You need global health, you need constant and ever-increasing improvements to the health of a population, but you need it with justice.”

Rep. Donna E. Shalala (D-Florida), a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, noted the role of global leaders in advancing health as a right.

“We’re at a crossroads now, both in our country and around the world, in which we’re going to see if health care is a fundamental right, and whether the people that lead the world’s nations have the political will to step up and to take that right and to deliver for their people,” she said at the event.

The report launch event took place on May 1, 2019. A list of speakers and a full video of the day’s events are available on the Global Health Initiative website.

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