Newswise — WASHINGTON (May 15, 2017) -- Reforms to a “trilogy” of global health laws are necessary to assure success and provide a critical roadmap for the World Health Organization’s next director-general, say three Georgetown University legal and public health experts.

The detailed account of the needed reforms, published online May 15 in The Lancet, is a prelude to The Lancet-O’Neill Institute, Georgetown University Commission on Global Health and the Law’s full report expected in 2018. The Commission aims to demonstrate the power of law to achieve global health with justice, and this Lancet article shows how three major World Health Organization international laws promote global tobacco control and make the world safer from fast moving pandemics.  

The laws examined in The Lancet article include the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), International Health Regulations (IHR), and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework.

Later this month, the World Health Assembly will select a new WHO director-general (DG) to replace outgoing leader Margaret Chan. The new DG is expected to take office, amidst calls for WHO reform.

“The Ebola epidemic taught us the harsh lesson that we need a strong WHO that is capable of forging meaningful change, and that change should be rooted in law to ensure health and justice,” says Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

Gostin says, “The new head of the World Health Organization must demonstrate leadership, and his or her first duty is to use WHO’s law making powers to protect health and ensure social justice.”

Gostin and his co-authors Mary Clare DeBartolo, JD, MPH, associate with the O’Neill Institute; and Rebecca Katz, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, describe systemic deficiencies and proposed vital reforms to the FCTC, IRH and PIP.

As international treaties, the FCTC and IHR are legally binding. The PIP Framework is not a formal treaty, but does introduce an innovative enforcement method through enforceable contracts.

“The lessons learned from 21st century international health law are that broad scope, robust compliance, inclusion of public and private actors, and sustainable financing are essential to success,” Gostin, DeBartolo and Katz write. “In an age of nationalistic populism, collective action remains vital to ameliorate globalized health threats, helping realize the right to health.”

The three conclude by calling on the new WHO D-G to take additional action toward a safer, healthier and fairer world, writing, “The next WHO Director-General should push for novel global health laws on major health hazards” including noncommunicable diseases, mental health and injuries, and new initiatives such as university health care.

To interview Gostin, please contact him at gostin(at)law(dot)Georgetown(dot)edu.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.