Launched in 2019, the Petrie-Flom Center’s work on global health justice seeks to strengthen theorization of a “right to health” under international and applicable domestic law, as well as the challenges to using human rights to advance global health justice. The Project will also explore the relationship between global economic and health governance. It includes a Senior Fellowship, public symposia and events, and policy and research projects done in collaboration with partners at Harvard and around the globe.

The Project will engage in policy and research projects that identify and critically analyze the use of distinct approaches for advancing systemic fairness, including financing, priority-setting, and judicial roles in national health systems, as well as greater equity and oversight in global health.

We will also be engaged in research on specific topics with policy relevance, such as possibilities for reframing sexual and reproductive health and rights struggles, in light not just of conservative backlashes, but also to the implications of emerging reproductive technologies and the dominant economic model.

Background

Patterns of health and ill-health are sensitive reflections of global (in)justice. Today, on the one hand, the extraordinary pace of biomedical discoveries and public health advances promises to contain the suffering and transform the lives of millions of individuals.

On the other hand, the benefits of those innovations are enjoyed very unequally both within and between countries. For example, a girl born in South Sudan today has a greater chance of dying in childbirth than graduating from primary school. Further, these disparities are neither natural nor unavoidable through alternative policy decisions, and therefore raise questions of unfairness embedded in the social and political determinants of health.

Wealth and social inequalities, coupled with corporate capture of political processes in relation to key health issues, undermine the possibility of responsive health systems, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and even democratic states of law. At the same time, the institutions of global governance, including in health, are currently not fit for guiding the attainment of “the world we want” through the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond.

A principal question that faces the diverse constituencies in global health today is when and how law, including human rights law, can be deployed in: (1) resolving priority-setting and other disputes, e.g. in sexual and reproductive health and genetic technologies; (2) shaping health and governance institutions to promote equity and accountability at national and global levels; and (3) and setting normative discourses relating to inherently contested health issues in ways that promote social justice.

Symposia and Events

The Project will host a variety of public events and workshops with policymakers, judges and both public health and legal scholars. Future events will likely include discussion of:

  • Possibilities and challenges for establishing democratically legitimate priority-setting processes in health systems

  • What we can learn from different countries’ experiences in ‘judicializing’ health rights?

  • Systemic flaws in the architecture of global health governance: implications, causes and potential approaches

  • Challenges to health justice from transnational determinants of health

  • The role of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 in influencing global and national health priorities, financing models and legal and regulatory environments.

Senior Fellow

Alicia Ely Yamin is the Project’s inaugural Senior Fellow in Global Health Justice. Yamin is currently a Senior Scholar in Residence at the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator at Harvard University, an Adjunct Lecturer on Global Health and Population at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and a Department of Global Health and Social Medicine Affiliate at Harvard Medical School. Trained in both law and public health at Harvard, Yamin has worked at the intersection of the two fields while living abroad in Latin America and East Africa. She is known globally for her pioneering scholarship and advocacy in relation to economic and social rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the right to health.

Yamin is regularly called upon by the UN to contribute international legal guidance relating to health and rights, as well as to provide expert testimony to tribunals and legislative bodies around the globe relating to the application of international and constitutional law to health issues.

In 2016, the UN Secretary General appointed Yamin as one of ten international experts to the Independent Accountability Panel for the Global Strategy on Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health in the Sustainable Development Goals. She was re-appointed in 2018.

Prior to being a Visiting Professor of Law and Senior Advisor to the O’Neill Institute on National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center (2016-18), Yamin was a Lecturer on Law and Global Health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Director of the JD/MPH Program, and the Policy Director at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Yamin has published over one hundred scholarly articles and book chapters on international and comparative constitutional law relating to health, development paradigms and global health. Her recent most book is Power, Suffering and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter, with a foreword by Paul Farmer (Penn, 2016; Ediciones Uniandes (Spanish); 2018).

GHRP is a collaboration between the Petrie-Flom Center and the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI) at Harvard University, which seeks to expand the “knowledge terrain” for global health by illustrating the interconnectedness between health conditions, the determinants of health, and the potential responses.