Global public goods for health: weaknesses and opportunities in the global health system

Health Econ Policy Law. 2017 Apr;12(2):195-205. doi: 10.1017/S1744133116000451.


Since at least the 1990s, there has been growing recognition that societies need global public goods (GPGs) in order to protect and promote public health. While the term GPG is sometimes used loosely to denote that which is 'good' for the global public, we restrict our use of the term to its technical definition (goods that are non-excludable and non-rival in consumption) for its useful analytical clarity. Examples of important GPGs for health include standards and guidelines, research on the causes and treatment of disease, and comparative evidence and analysis. While institutions for providing public goods are relatively well developed at the national level - being clearly recognized as a responsibility of sovereign states - institutional arrangements to do so remain fragmented and thin at the global level. For example, the World Health Organization, mandated to provide many GPGs, is not appropriately financed to do so. Three steps are needed to better govern the financing and provision of GPGs for health: first, improved data to develop a clearer picture of how much money is currently going to providing which types of GPGs; second, a legitimate global political process to decide upon priority missing GPGs, followed by estimates of total amounts needed; and third, financing streams for GPGs from governments and private sources, to be channeled through new or existing institutions. Financing should go toward fully financing some GPGs, complementing or supplementing existing national or international financing for others, or deploying funds to make potential GPGs less 'excludable' by putting them into the public domain. As globalization deepens the degree of interdependence between countries and as formerly low-income economies advance, there may be less relative need for development assistance to meet basic health care needs, and greater relative need to finance GPGs. Strengthening global arrangements for GPGs today is a worthy investment for improved global health in the years to come.

MeSH terms

  • Financing, Organized
  • Global Health*
  • Health Priorities
  • Humans