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Global health and multilateral diplomacy

By Ioan Voicu - posted Monday, 25 February 2019

According to Chinese wisdom, "Health is preferable to wealth".This truth could not fail to have an inspirational impact on diplomacy.

In 2007 the foreign ministers of Brazil, France, Indonesia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa and Thailand adopted a valuable initiative entitled "The Global Health and Foreign Policy".This initiative was contained in a comprehensive document under the title "Oslo Ministerial Declaration-global health: a pressing foreign policy issue of our time".

The first paragraph of the Declaration asserts that " We believe that health is one of the most important, yet still broadly neglected, long-term foreign policy issues of our time. .... We believe that health as a foreign policy issue needs a stronger strategic focus on the international agenda. We have therefore agreed to make impact on health a point of departure and a defining lens that each of our countries will use to examine key elements of foreign policy and development strategies,and to engage in a dialogue on how to deal with policy options from this perspective".


The same document contains the clear commitment of its authors to " work to: increase awareness of our common vulnerability in the face of health threats by bringing health issues more strongly into the arenas of foreign policy discussions and decisions, in order to strengthen our commitment to concerted action at the global level; build bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation for global health security by strengthening the case for collaboration and brokering broad agreement, accountability, and action; reinforce health as a key element in strategies for development and for fighting poverty..... to ensure universal access to medicines; strengthen the place of health measures in conflict and crisis management and in reconstruction efforts".

This diplomatic document proved to be highly instrumental in a successful worldwide lobby which led to the inscription on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) of the item "Global health and foreign policy".

Since 2008, as a result of fruitful negotiations, this item was permanently on the UNGA agenda and was considered on the basis of professional reports prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General. The reports , discussions and resolutions resulting from the consideration of this item revealed the existence of different areas of collaboration between health and foreign policy, helped to formulate specific recommendations, and thus contributing to better understanding of the importance of health in international policy and developmental discussions.

Until 2018 all resolutions on this item were adopted by consensus which illustrates the positive role of multilateral diplomacy in obtaining a general agreement of 193 UN member states on a highly significant global issue.

We will refer in this article to the first (2008) and to the most recent 2018 resolutions.

A vibrant appeal for action

In the first resolution adopted on 26 November 2008 the UNGA underscored the fact that global health is a long-term objective which is national, regional and international in scope and requires sustained attention,commitment and closer international cooperation beyond emergency.


The UNGA appreciated the contribution made by civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, on issues related to foreign policy and global health, and welcomed the ongoing partnerships between a variety of stakeholders at the local,national, regional and global levels aimed at addressing the multifaceted determinants of global health and the commitments and initiatives to accelerate progress on the health-related goals.

The significance of this resolution is highly emphasized by the clear recognition in its first operative paragraph of the the close relationship between foreign policy and global health and their interdependence, and in that regard also the recognition that global challenges require concerted and sustained efforts by the international community.

The UNGA urged member states to consider health issues in the formulation of foreign policy.

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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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