Equity in Global Health Law - Policy Brief

Kate McKenzie, Mitchell Lennan, Mark Eccleston-Turner , Michelle Rourke, Abbie-Rose Hampton, Elsa Tsioumani, Jonathan Ainslie, Catharine Titi, Gerard Porter, Harry Upton, Rebecca Williams, Sharifah Sekalala, Anthony Wenton, Emmanuel Kolawole Oke, Clare Wenham, Stephanie Switzer

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper

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Abstract

Equity has been sorely lacking in pandemic preparedness and response, and COVID-19 is but the latest example (O’Cuinn and Switzer, 2019; Rourke, 2019). The response to COVID-19 was characterised by nationalism, inequity in access to diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics and personal protective equipment (PPE) between the Global North and the Global South, as well as discriminatory, and in some instances racist, border closures chiefly impacting low- and middle-income countries.

In response to the widespread inequity witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO) are currently negotiating a new international legal instrument - the Pandemic Treaty - intended to prevent pandemics and mitigate associated inequalities such as vaccine access, and improve compliance with international law during pandemic events.

From the initial proposal for the Treaty, through the many rounds of discussions that have occurred to date, it is clear that the new instrument is intended to be grounded in equity, with equity positioned as both an objective and as an operational output (Wenham, Eccleston- Turner & Voss, 2022). However, while equity is recognised as a general principle of international law, it does not have a precise and defined meaning. From the start of negotiations, it was unclear what an instrument ‘grounded’ in equity should look like, what the principle of equity actually means in this context, and how this principle can translate into meaningful obligations within international law more generally, as well as pandemic preparedness and global health governance specifically.

In an attempt to answer these questions, we convened - with the assistance of funding from the Scottish Council for Global Affairs and the ESRC IAA Policy Impact Fund - a workshop at King’s College, London at which we gathered together experts on equity from different disciplinary backgrounds in an attempt to understand and conceptualize equity as a legal concept, charting its history, development and application within both domestic and international law.

In the following short discussion, we distill some of the lessons at this workshop from both national law as well as other international arenas, before offering suggestions on how this somewhat opaque concept might be effectively operationalised within the Pandemic Treaty. The aim of this discussion is therefore not to engage in a lengthy, academic literature review of the different conceptions of equity found in academic texts - of which there is an abundance of relevant literature - but rather to offer practical insights to the operationalisation of equity to the Pandemic Treaty. What we find is that there is no ‘one’ way to do equity or for an international agreement to be equitable. Our discussions found that equity must be more than an abstract buzzword - simply inserting the word equity into a legal text does not achieve equity. However, international law offers a number of lessons for responding to instances of inequity arising in the absence of a perfect, overarching functional definition of equity.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Pages1-10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • equity
  • public health
  • national laws
  • pandemic treaties

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