Framing Global Health and Foreign Policy

typeIn Globalization and Health—an online, peer-reviewed journal—Ronald Labonté and Michelle Gagnon wrote a paper exploring how health has become a prominent global policy agenda in the last decade titled, “Framing health and foreign policy: lessons for global health diplomacy.”  They argue that the rise of global health policy has been accompanied by the new concept of global health diplomacy (GHD), defined as “the processes by which government, multilateral and civil society actors attempt to position health in foreign policy negotiations and to create new forms of global health governance.” This article addresses two overarching questions:

1. What arguments have been advanced by governments to position global health more prominently in foreign policy deliberations?

2. How does their policy framing relate to their potential to improve global health equity?

To answer these questions and determine how global health fits into a broader foreign policy landscape, Labonté and Gagnon present six policy frames: security, development, global public goods, trade, human rights and ethical/moral reasoning. These differing policy frames offer multiple rationales for elevating global health issues in foreign policy debates.

Be sure to read the full article here exploring the framing of health and foreign policy and see key excerpts below:

“Initial findings support conventional international relations theory that most states, even when committed to health as a foreign policy goal, still make decisions primarily on the basis of the ‘high politics’ of national security and economic material interests. Development, human rights and ethical/moral arguments for global health assistance, the traditional ‘low politics’ of foreign policy, are present in discourse but do not appear to dominate practice.”

“There remains some cause for optimism that global health will retain and perhaps strengthen its prominence in foreign policy. Spain, during its EU presidency in the first half of 2010, focused on issues of global health equity, coherence and knowledge. The WHO continues to emphasize the health risks of unregulated global financial markets while strengthening the knowledge and practice base for global health diplomacy. The transition from the G8 to the G20 (while still fraught with issues of economic elitism in global governance) incorporates some countries with stronger histories of rights-based approaches to health.”

“Global health has yet to demonstrate any revolutionary shift in foreign policy drivers, to the extent that the different discursive framings for global health create an enlarged space for debate, an opening exists for global health equity to become more central in foreign policy deliberations. This challenges global health diplomats to strengthen the force of some of their arguments…primarily in introducing human rights and ethical norms into foreign policy debate.”

Do you think the Obama administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) aligns with the concept of global health diplomacy? Let us know in comments below.

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