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Global public goods and the global health agenda: problems, priorities and potential

Richard D Smith1* and Landis MacKellar2

Author Affiliations

1 Health Policy Unit, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

2 International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Vienna, Austria and Health Economics Centre, City University, London, UK

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Globalization and Health 2007, 3:9  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-3-9

Published: 22 September 2007


The 'global public good' (GPG) concept has gained increasing attention, in health as well as development circles. However, it has suffered in finding currency as a general tool for global resource mobilisation, and is at risk of being attached to almost anything promoting development. This overstretches and devalues the validity and usefulness of the concept. This paper first defines GPGs and describes the policy challenge that they pose. Second, it identifies two key areas, health R&D and communicable disease control, in which the GPG concept is clearly relevant and considers the extent to which it has been applied. We point out that that, while there have been many new initiatives, it is not clear that additional resources from non-traditional sources have been forthcoming. Yet achieving this is, in effect, the entire purpose of applying the GPG concept in global health. Moreover, the proliferation of disease-specific programs associated with GPG reasoning has tended to promote vertical interventions at the expense of more general health sector strengthening. Third, we examine two major global health policy initiatives, the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the bundling of long-standing international health goals in the form of Millennium Development Goals (MDG), asking how the GPG perspective has contributed to defining objectives and strategies. We conclude that both initiatives are best interpreted in the context of traditional development assistance and, one-world rhetoric aside, have little to do with the challenge posed by GPGs for health. The paper concludes by considering how the GPG concept can be more effectively used to promote global health.