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‘BRICS without straw’? A systematic literature review of newly emerging economies’ influence in global health

Andrew Harmer12*, Yina Xiao2, Eduardo Missoni2 and Fabrizio Tediosi23

Author Affiliations

1 Global Public Health Unit, Social Policy, School of Social & Political Science, University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 9LD, UK

2 Global Health and Development Area, Centre for Research on Health and Social Care Management (CERGAS), Bocconi University, via Roentgen 1, Milan, 20136, Italy

3 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

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Globalization and Health 2013, 9:15  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-9-15

Published: 15 April 2013



Since 2010, five newly emerging economies collectively known as ‘BRICS’ (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa) have caught the imagination, and scholarly attention, of political scientists, economists and development specialists. The prospect of a unified geopolitical bloc, consciously seeking to re-frame international (and global) health development with a new set of ideas and values, has also, if belatedly, begun to attract the attention of the global health community. But what influence, if any, do the BRICS wield in global health, and, if they do wield influence, how has that influence been conceptualized and recorded in the literature?


We conducted a systematic literature review in (March-December 2012) of documents retrieved from the databases EMBASE, PubMed/Medline, Global Health, and Google Scholar, and the websites of relevant international organisations, research institutions and philanthropic organisations. The results were synthesised using a framework of influence developed for the review from the political science literature.


Our initial search of databases and websites yielded 887 documents. Exclusion criteria narrowed the number of documents to 71 journal articles and 23 reports. Two researchers using an agreed set of inclusion criteria independently screened the 94 documents, leaving just 7 documents. We found just one document that provided sustained analysis of the BRICS’ collective influence; the overwhelming tendency was to describe individual BRICS countries influence. Although influence was predominantly framed by BRICS countries’ material capability, there were examples of institutional and ideational influence - particularly from Brazil. Individual BRICS countries were primarily ‘opportunity seekers’ and region mobilisers but with potential to become ‘issue leaders’ and region organisers.


Though small in number, the written output on BRICS influence in global health has increased significantly since a similar review conducted in 2010 found just one study. Whilst it may still be ‘early days’ for newly-emerging economies influence in global health to have matured, we argue that there is scope to further develop the concept of influence in global health, but also to better understand the ontology of groups of countries such as BRICS. The BRICS have made a number of important commitments towards reforming global health, but if they are to be more than a memorable acronym they need to start putting those collective commitments into action. Keywords BRICS, global health, influence, newly emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.