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International Law and Global Health

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Global Health Essentials

Part of the book series: Sustainable Development Goals Series ((SDGS))

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This chapter provides a brief overview of some of the core international law instruments in the field of global health. Such overview includes legally binding rules developed both under the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as beyond its purview. Instruments created within the WHO and enshrining the protection of human health as the main object and purpose consist of Regulations dealing with Nomenclature and the cross-border spread of disease—namely, the International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005—as well as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Other international law regimes are correlated to human health, even though they might not foresee it as the central object and purpose. In particular, multilateral human rights frameworks such as the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, on the one hand, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on the other hand, are a necessary stepping-stone towards the fulfilment of the “highest attainable physical and mental well-being”. Furthermore, the existing three international conventions on drug control regulate the use and abuse of substances for medical and other purposes. These instruments are by no means the only ones relevant for global health goals, as others may have important effects on the provision of healthcare products and services to populations around the world.

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  1. 1.

    Article 1 of the WHO Constitution.

  2. 2.

    Article 2(a) of the WHO Constitution.

  3. 3.

    In accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution, these are: (a) sanitary and quarantine requirements and other procedures designed to prevent the international spread of disease; (b) nomenclatures with respect to diseases, causes of death and public health practices; (c) standards with respect to diagnostic procedures for international use; (d) standards with respect to the safety, purity and potency of biological, pharmaceutical and similar products moving in international commerce; (e) advertising and labelling of biological, pharmaceutical and similar products moving in international commerce.

  4. 4.

    Article 22 of the WHO Constitution.

  5. 5.

    Article 23 of the WHO Constitution.

  6. 6.

    An intergovernmental process was established in 2022 to consider potential targeted amendments to the instrument, for consideration in May 2024 (decision WHA75 (9) (27 May 2022) ‘Strengthening WHO preparedness for and response to health emergencies’).

  7. 7.

    WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (adopted 21 May 2003, entered into force 27 February 2005) 2302 UNTS 166.

  8. 8.

    Currently with 171 states parties. See

  9. 9.

    Currently with 173 states parties. Ibid.

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  • United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12), adopted at the Twenty-second Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 2000. (Contained in Document E/C.12/2000/4).

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  • United Nations, Human Rights Committee. General Comment No. 36, Article 6: The Right to Life, Adopted by the Committee at its 124th session. 2018. (CCPR/C/GC/36).

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Correspondence to Pedro A. Villarreal .

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Villarreal, P.A., Nannini, C. (2023). International Law and Global Health. In: Raviglione, M.C.B., Tediosi, F., Villa, S., Casamitjana, N., Plasència, A. (eds) Global Health Essentials. Sustainable Development Goals Series. Springer, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-33850-2

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