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International Public Health Law: Not so much WHO as why, and not enough WHO and why not?

Harmon, SHE

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy   12 (3) 245-255

August 2009

To state the obvious, ‘health matters”, but health (or its equitable enjoyment) is neither simple nor easy. Public health in particular, which encompasses a broad collection of complex and multidisciplinary activities which are critical to the wellbeing and security of individuals, populations and nations, is a difficult milieu to master effectively. In fact, despite the vital importance of public health, there is a relative dearth of ethico-legal norms tailored for, and directed at, the public health sector, particularly at the international level.

This is a state of affairs which is no longer tenable in the global environment. This article argues that public health promotion is a moral duty, and that international actors are key stakeholders upon whom this duty falls. In particular, the World Health Organization bears a heavy responsibility in this regard. The article claims that better health can and must be better promoted through a more robust interpretation of the WHO’s role, arguing that neither the WHO nor international law have yet played their necessary part in promoting health for all.