Background: In recent years, there have been numerous calls for global institutions to develop and enforce new international laws. International laws are, however, often blunt instruments with many uncertain benefits, costs, risks of harm, and trade-offs. Thus, they are probably not always appropriate solutions to global health challenges. Given these uncertainties and international law's potential importance for improving global health, the paucity of synthesized evidence addressing whether international laws achieve their intended effects or whether they are superior in comparison to other approaches is problematic.
Methods: Ten electronic bibliographic databases were searched using predefined search strategies, including MEDLINE, Global Health, CINAHL, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, Dissertations and Theses, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, International Political Science Abstracts, Social Sciences Abstracts, Social Sciences Citation Index, PAIS International, and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. Two reviewers will independently screen titles and abstracts using predefined inclusion criteria. Pairs of reviewers will then independently screen the full-text of articles for inclusion using predefined inclusion criteria and then independently extract data and assess risk of bias for included studies. Where feasible, results will be pooled through subgroup analyses, meta-analyses, and meta-regression techniques.
Discussion: The findings of this review will contribute to a better understanding of the expected benefits and possible harms of using international law to address different kinds of problems, thereby providing important evidence-informed guidance on when and how it can be effectively introduced and implemented by countries and global institutions.
Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42015019830.
Keywords: Global health; International cooperation; Jurisprudence; Public policy; Social determinants of health; Treaties.