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Open Access Debate

Global health impacts of policies: lessons from the UK

Modi K Mwatsama1, Sidney Wong2, Dena Ettehad3 and Nicola F Watt4*

Author Affiliations

1 UK Health Forum, London, UK

2 NHS, Public Health Specialist, London, UK

3 King’s College London, School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK

4 European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SH, UK

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Globalization and Health 2014, 10:13  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-10-13

Published: 10 March 2014

Abstract

Background

The UK government committed to undertaking impact assessments of its policies on the health of populations in low and middle-income countries in its cross-government strategy “Health is Global”. To facilitate this process, the Department of Health, in collaboration with the National Heart Forum, initiated a project to pilot the use of a global health impact assessment guidance framework and toolkit for policy-makers. This paper aims to stimulate debate about the desirability and feasibility of global health impact assessments by describing and drawing lessons from the first stage of the project.

Discussion

Despite the attraction of being able to assess and address potential global health impacts of policies, there is a dearth of existing information and experience. A literature review was followed by discussions with policy-makers and an online survey about potential barriers, preferred support mechanisms and potential policies on which to pilot the toolkit. Although policy-makers were willing to engage in hypothetical discussions about the methodology, difficulties in identifying potential pilots suggest a wider problem in encouraging take up without legislative imperatives. This is reinforced by the findings of the survey that barriers to uptake included lack of time, resources and expertise. We identified three lessons for future efforts to mainstream global health impact assessments: 1) Identify a lead government department and champion – to some extent, this role was fulfilled by the Department of Health, however, it lacked a high-level cross-government mechanism to support implementation. 2) Ensure adequate resources and consider embedding the goals and principles of global health impact assessments into existing processes to maximise those resources. 3) Develop an effective delivery mechanism involving both state actors, and non-state actors who can ensure a “voice” for constituencies who are affected by government policies and also provide the “demand” for the assessments.

Summary

This paper uses the initial stages of a study on global health impact assessments to pose the wider question of incentives for policy-makers to improve global health. It highlights three lessons for successful development and implementation of global health impact assessments in relation to stewardship, resources, and delivery mechanisms.

Keywords:
Global health; Impact assessment; Policy coherence; Development