Background: Over the past decade, global health issues have become more prominent in foreign policies at the national level. The process to develop state level global health strategies is arguably a form of global health diplomacy (GHD). Despite an increase in the volume of secondary research and analysis in this area, little primary research, particularly that which draws directly on the perspectives of those involved in these processes, has been conducted. This study seeks to fill this knowledge gap through an empirical case study of Health is Global: A UK Government Strategy 2008-2013. It aims to build understanding about how and why health is integrated into foreign policy and derive lessons of potential relevance to other nations interested in developing whole-of-government global health strategies.
Methods: The major element of the study consisted of an in-depth investigation and analysis of the UK global health strategy. Document analysis and twenty interviews were conducted. Data was organized and described using an adapted version of Walt and Gilson's policy analysis triangle. A general inductive approach was used to identify themes in the data, which were then analysed and interpreted using Fidler's health and foreign policy conceptualizations and Kingdon's multiples streams model of the policymaking process.
Results: The primary reason that the UK decided to focus more on global health is self-interest - to protect national and international security and economic interests. Investing in global health was also seen as a way to enhance the UK's international reputation. A focus on global health to primarily benefit other nations and improve global health per se was a prevalent through weaker theme. A well organized, credible policy community played a critical role in the process and a policy entrepreneur with expertise in both international relations and health helped catalyze attention and action on global health when the time was right. Support from the Prime Minister and from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was essential. The process to arrive at a government-wide strategy was complex and time-consuming, but also broke down silos. Significant negotiation and compromise were required from actors with widely varying perspectives on global health and conflicting priorities.
Conclusions: As primarily an exploratory study, this research sheds significant light on the global health policymaking process at the level of the state. It provides a useful and important starting point for further hypothesis driven empirical research that focuses on the integration of health in foreign policy, how and why this happens and whether or not it makes an impact on improving global health.