The Rise of Global Health: How Did Health Become a Matter of Global Concern?

By Samuel W. Singler
2016, Vol. 8 No. 06 | pg. 2/2 |

While the rise of these non-state actors has been welcomed by many, as indeed they are often able to promote positive and equitable health outcomes when government action is inadequate, they raise difficult questions of accountability and responsibility (Harman 2012: 141). Moreover, like IGOs, they also face challenges in terms of funding, often leading to a similar focus on vertical initiatives that can provide easily measurable outcomes in a short period of time in order to satisfy investors, and the devotion of resources to health issues that mainly affect the developed parts of the globe, in pursuit of higher profit margins (Orbinski, 2007: 34). An examination of the importance of non-state actors in shaping the global health agenda should therefore be accompanied by a parallel awareness of the political and economic contexts in which they are situated.

Furthermore, the role of non-state actors should not be overstated. States retain their importance as sources of funding, architects of legal frameworks for domestic and international action, and providers of the health systems and infrastructure that can determine the success or failure of health interventions (Davies, 2009: 55, 60). The sustained of states in affecting processes of global health was demonstrated when Indonesia refused to share its H5N1 virus samples, due to concerns that those samples would be used by pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines priced beyond the reach of developing countries most in need of such products (Irwin, 2010). What non-state actors seek to do, in this double context of the persistence of the importance of states in addressing health issues coupled with new challenges and opportunities due to the increased of the determinants of health, is to assert their influence by inserting themselves into the dynamics of political contestation that underlie the processes by which global health issues are defined, identified, classified and prioritized.

The way in which issues are framed influences how problems are conceptualized, what possible responses are seen as effective and desirable, and thus to which ends political and economic resources should be devoted, an insight of immense importance not only to questions of global health, but also global governance more generally (Mintz & Redd, 2003). The mobilization of resources towards addressing health issues often depends on the extent to which these issues are framed in terms of the interests of the most powerful actors in the global health governance arena, usually Western sovereign states. Thus health issues successfully framed as a threat to the national security of developed countries, or as having a direct effect on their economies, have evoked the most effective, coordinated and rapid responses from the global health governance regime (Feldbaum & Michaud, 2010: 2-4).

In fact, developing countries have begun contesting securitized conceptions of health due to concerns of a skewed focus on issues that directly affect the industrialized world, rather than on a comprehensive approach to health governance that seeks to address the broader determinants of health globally, which often goes against the immediate economic interests of developed countries (Aldis, 2008). As successful framing can induce mass mobilization of economic and political resources across the world, the arenas in which certain health issues are constructed as global matters of concern become important sites of political contestation for both state and non-state actors (Abeysinghe, 2013). An awareness of this political dimension of global health governance illuminates the dynamics by which the interests of the economically and politically powerful often prevail, which explains persistent inequalities in health outcomes both within states and across the globe.

Horizontal approaches to strengthening global health systems and addressing the underlying social and economic inequalities that act as permissive or causative factors producing various health issues are often overlooked, although such an approach can promote environmentally, economically and socially sustainable long-term development (Lee, 2004: 198-200; Sanders & Chopra, 2003: 108). Instead, resources are devoted to vertical initiatives aiming to tackle specific health issues that present a direct security or economic threat to powerful states, produce immediately measurable outcomes and are thus more easily justified to financial backers of NGOs, or provide high-profit opportunities for private corporations. This balancing act between the interests, capabilities and responsibilities of state and non-state actors, in the face of increasingly globalized determinants of health, goes to the very heart of global health governance.

It becomes clear, then, that instead of being an entirely natural and apolitical development, the globalization of health governance is deeply political. This essay has shown that while the structural forces of accelerated globalization have given rise to new challenges and opportunities for global health, the way in which they are prioritized and addressed is the product of complex political contestation between countless state and non-state actors. An understanding of the centrality of these economic and political relationships of power can explain the skewed nature of the global health agenda, and thus the persistence of inequalities in terms of health outcomes both within states and between them.

Such an understanding is crucial in order to highlight the opportunities for new arenas of political contestation and collaboration in order to address these inequalities. Indeed, popular mobilization within the current institutions of global health governance and a cognitive transformation towards a global, rather than a national or regional, conceptualization of health, have already resulted in incremental, yet significant progress in this direction (Garner & McKee, 2001). Although by no means an easy endeavour, due to the complexity of the political dynamics and the power of the myriad actors involved in global health governance, a more equitable, healthy world is possible.


Abeysinghe, S., ‘When the Spread of Disease Becomes a Global Event: The Classification of Pandemics,’ Social Studies of Science, Vol. 43, No. 6 (2013), pp. 905-926.

Aldis, W., ‘Health Security as a Concept: A Critical Analysis,’ Health Policy and Planning, Vol. 23, No. 6 (2008), pp. 369-375.

Bambra, C., D. Fox and A. Scott-Samuel, ‘Towards a Politics of Health,’ Health Promotion International, Vol. 20, No. 2 (2005), pp. 187-193.

Davies, S., Global Politics of Health (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009).

Elbe, S., ‘Out Epidemiological Footprint: The Circulation of Avian Flu, SARS, and HIV/AIDS in the World Economy,’ Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2008), pp. 116-130.

Feldbaum, H., and J. Michaud, ‘Health Diplomacy and the Enduring Relevance of Interests,’ PLoS Med, Vol. 7, No. 4 (2010), pp. 1-6.

Fidler, D., ‘After the Revolution: Global Health Politics in a Time of Economic Crisis and Threatening Future Trends,’ Articles by Maurer Faculty, No. 145 (2009).

Frenk, J., O. Gómez-Dantés, O. Adams and E. Gakidou, ‘The Globalization of Health Care,’ in M. McKee, R. Stott and P. Garner (eds.), International Co-operation in Health (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Garner, P. and M. McKee, ‘The Way Forward,’ in M. McKee, R. Stott and P. Garner (eds.), International Co-operation in Health (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Harman, S., Global Health Governance (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).

–––– ‘Global Health Governance,’ in T. Weiss and R. Wilkinson (eds.), International Organization and Global Governance (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).

Irwin, R., ‘Indonesia, H5N1, and Global Health Diplomacy,’ Global Health Governance, Vol. 3, No. 2 (2010).

Jareg, P. and D. Kaseje, ‘Growth of Civil Society in Developing Countries: Implications for Health,’ The Lancet, Vol. 351, No. 9105 (1998), pp. 819-822.

Kickbusch, I., ‘Global Health Governance: Some Theoretical Considerations on the New Political Space,’ in K. Lee (ed.), Health Impacts of Globalization: Towards Global Governance (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Koivusalo, M., ‘Assessing the Health Policy Implications of WTO Trade and Investment Agreements,’ in K. Lee (ed.), Health Impacts of Globalization: Towards Global Governance (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Lee, K., ‘Globalization – A New Agenda for Health?’ in M. McKee, R. Stott and P. Garner (eds.), International Co-operation in Health (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

–––– Globalization and Health: An Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

McInnes, C. and K. Lee, ‘Health, Security and Foreign Policy,’ Review of International Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2006), pp. 5-23.

McKee, M., R. Stott and P. Garner, ‘Introduction,’ in M. McKee, R. Stott and P. Garner (eds.), International Co-operation in Health (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Mintz, A. and S. Redd, ‘Framing Effects in ,’ Synthese, Vol. 135, No. 2 (2003), pp. 193-213.

Muzaka, V., ‘Shaping Global Rules: Proprietary Pharmaceutical Companies as Global Political Actors,’ New Political Economy, Vol. 14, No. 2 (2009), pp. 289-301.

Orbinski, J., ‘Global Health, Social Movements, and Governance,’ in A. Cooper, J. Kirton and T. Schrecker (eds.), Governing Global Health: Challenge, Response, Innovation (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

Parker, R., ‘The Global HIV/AIDS Pandemic, Structural Inequalities, and the Politics of International Health,’ American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 92, No. 3 (2002), pp. 343-346.

Sanders, D. and M. Chopra, ‘Globalization and the Challenge of Health for All: A View from ,’ in K. Lee (ed.), Health Impacts of Globalization: Towards Global Governance (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

World Health Organization (WHO), The World Health Report 2008: Primary Health Care – Now More Than Ever (Geneva: WHO Press, 2008).

–––– World Health Statistics 2015 (Geneva: WHO Press, 2015).

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

A country of approximately 37 million people, Kenya has struggled to build a health system that can effectively deliver quality health services to its population. Access to health care varies widely throughout the country and is determined on numerous factors, though in particular, major divides exist between rural and urban communities... MORE»
According to recent statistics published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, Hispanics in the United States tend to outlive non-Hispanic whites by almost three years. Specifically, the... MORE»
This comparative analysis of U.S. and U.K. healthcare systems pinpoints inequalities in health outcomes and recommends policies to alleviate disparities. Mortality data from the CDC'S WONDER Database and Cancer Research... MORE»
Rising rates of chronic diseases, aging populations, and mounting medical costs threaten the financial solvency of the health care systems of the United States and Costa Rica. Despite ranking 1st in health expenditures, the United States achieves the same health outcomes as Costa Rica, a country that ranks 50th in expenditures.... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Health Science

2017, Vol. 13 No. 1
Published by Discussions
Causal inference methods were performed on The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) clinical datasets. First, relevant patient data were collected and merged. Then, an algorithm was used to create a causal directed acyclic graph (DAG). Next, the Iterative... Read Article »
2012, Vol. 1 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
This paper examines explanations for the current HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Deep South United States. The first set of explanations is categorized as social determinants of health and includes social and economic factors that influence public health... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 03
This article argues that performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) ought to be allowed across all elite sporting competitions for athletes over the age of 16 so long as consuming them does not pose a significant risk to their health. I begin with a brief... Read Article »
2015, Vol. 6 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has ravaged sub-Saharan Africa in the decades since its first recorded case. The disease has reached epidemic levels in many regions, with millions of new cases diagnosed each year. This paper examines... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 6 No. 1
A study in May 2014 analyzed food labels in Quito, Ecuador, to better understand the culture's nutritional communication. The study explored what is considered to be a healthy diet in Ecuadorian culture and how this is communicated, and also to... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 8 No. 10
The present study provided a systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized control trials involving the effectiveness of various rehabilitation methods that have been implemented for the treatment of anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 12 No. 2
Published by Discussions
This comparative analysis of U.S. and U.K. healthcare systems pinpoints inequalities in health outcomes and recommends policies to alleviate disparities. Mortality data from the CDC'S WONDER Database and Cancer Research U.K. were used to analyze... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


"Should I Go to Graduate School?"
The Career Value of the Humanities & Liberal Arts
What is the Secret to Success?