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The Significance of Health Diplomacy in the 21st Century

Diplomacy played a crucial role in the health sector. Negotiating for health in the fasting interests requires new abilities as health becomes an increasingly important component of development initiatives, trade agreements, foreign policy, and security policies. Due to the increasing number of health issues, it is hard to handle them technically, they require frequent calls for extensive stakeholder participation in political discussions and solutions. Health diplomacy has many facets. Health diplomacy can play a significant role at the regional, bilateral, and national levels as well. Global health diplomacy concentrates on health challenges that require the cooperation of many nations to address issues of common concern. 

What Is Health Diplomacy?

Health diplomacy is a type of diplomacy that aims to safeguard people’s health and welfare beyond national boundaries. It entails leveraging health-related concerns to strengthen bonds, encourage teamwork, and advance international peace and stability. It combines the interests of foreign policy and global health. It brings together a diverse range of participants in fields that impact global public health. The following are the goals of health Diplomacy defined by the World Health Organization (WHO);

  • Enhanced population health and health security; 
  • Improved state-to-state relations and the dedication of all actors to collaboratively promote health; 
  • Attaining equitable results and bolstering the objectives of minimizing poverty and enhancing equality.

What Is Global Health Diplomacy?

The term “Global Health Diplomacy” (GHD) has become popular to characterize the methods used by non-state entities and governments to try to coordinate efforts to advance global health. GHD proponents define it as a process of adapting to global hazards to public health while acknowledging the variety of factors that affect and determine population health. GHD connects multi-sectoral public policy, international relations, and global public health. 

Evolution of Health Diplomacy

Global health diplomacy began to take shape in the 19th century in response to challenges to public health around the world. The mid-19th and mid-20th century saw the creation of numerous international regimes about public health issues. When European nations came together for the inaugural International Sanitary Conference in 1851 to discuss collaboration on plague, cholera, and yellow fever, that marked the beginning of global health diplomacy.  With changing global health concerns and fluctuating international relations dynamics, health diplomacy has evolved over time. Several important eras and particular incidents that have shaped the development of health diplomacy encompass:

1. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) 1902

Modern health diplomacy was largely made possible by the coordinated international health cooperation that began in the early 20th century. The most important development in health diplomacy was the establishment of the Pan-American Health Organization in 1902. It encourages member nations to work together technologically to combat both infectious and noncommunicable diseases, reinforce health systems, and deal with catastrophes and natural disasters. In the region, it has four Associate Members and 35 Member States.

2. World Health Organization (WHO) 1948

The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1948 as the United Nations specialized agency. It is responsible for global public health. WHO aims to protect global health, safeguard public safety, and assist those who are vulnerable. Its objectives are to guarantee that an additional billion people have access to universal health care, shield an additional billion from medical crises, and improve the health and well-being of an additional billion people.

3. The International Response to HIV/AIDs 1980s 

Health diplomacy is required to confront a serious health crisis as demonstrated by the worldwide response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s. The importance of cooperative tactics and resource mobilization has been shown by multilateral initiatives like the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

4. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Outbreak 2002- 2003

The  Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak highlighted the need for improved global health governance. In addition to highlighting how interrelated health is on a global scale, the SARS outbreak in 2002- 2003 also showed how important it is for nations to work together to share knowledge, conduct disease surveillance, and contain infectious disease outbreaks.

5. The International Health Partnership+ (IHP+) 2007

The International Health Partnership+ (IHP+) is one example of the development approach to global health policy envisaged by the Oslo Declaration established in 2007.  The goal was to put the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness into practice in the health sector, under the direction of the UK and Norway. It will increase the amount of health aid provided and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of what currently exists.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The recent COVID-19 pandemic brought to light inequalities in global health, particularly concerning access to healthcare and vaccination rates. Global health has since become embedded in geopolitics, having emerged as a major threat to multilateral collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst the swift creation of a unique governance mechanism, known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator, by international organizations, high-income countries (HICs) became particularly involved in a wave of vaccine nationalism. Highly Income Countries invested substantial amounts of money to ensure that their populations had exclusive access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Moreover, the pandemic required unprecedented degrees of international cooperation, revealing the numerous flaws in the systems of health diplomacy that were in place at the time.  

Actors of Health Diplomacy

There are multiple actors involved in health diplomacy collaborate to develop and carry out health-related policies and actions. The following are the actors of health diplomacy;

1) Governments

National governments design and carry out health programs, negotiate international health agreements, and serve their nations in forums and organizations devoted to global health. These activities constitute a major part of health diplomacy.

2) International Organizations (IOs)

Health diplomacy is greatly aided by international bodies that function within a multilateral framework, like the United Nations (UN),  the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization, and regional organizations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU). They offer forums for cooperation, aid in the coordination of international health projects, and exercise leadership in formulating policies and establishing global health agendas.

3) Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Many NGOs, including the Red Cross, and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), contribute significantly to health diplomacy by offering medical care, promoting health-related legislation, and handling medical crises.

Also Read: Biggest NGOs in the World

4) Diplomatic Army

Health diplomats play a critical role in the negotiation of health accords, the improvement of diplomatic ties between states, and the advocacy of health-related issues by representing their countries’ objectives in international conferences, forums, and meetings.

5) Academic and Research Institutions

Academic and research institutions play a variety of roles in health diplomacy, most notably in the areas of research and data gathering, information communication and distribution, and the creation and analysis of policies. Furthermore, non-governmental organizations frequently serve as centers, bringing together a variety of stakeholders to collaborate and discuss health-related issues as well as to help form alliances between the public and private sectors.

Why Is Health Diplomacy Relevant?

The relevance and greater significance of Global Health Diplomacy are accorded to the three main components of the global agenda. These are; the world economy, the security environment, and the fields of humanitarianism, human rights, and social justice. With security, the world has witnessed the panic that erupted during the Ebola outbreak or COVID-19 and the corresponding safety precautions that were implemented. Comprehensive security screening protocols have also been implemented to manage health hazards resulting from both internal and external mass migration.

It is commonly known that there are socioeconomic connections between development, poverty reduction, and health, as well as how growing public healthcare expenses affect national budgets and fiscal policy. In keeping with the aspirations of all of our citizens, universal access to primary health care is an essential component of our fundamental social ideals as well as humanitarian and human rights principles. 

Also Read: Monetary Policy vs Fiscal Policy

Why Is Health Diplomacy Important At This Time?

Health issues are becoming progressively global in nature. This leads to calls for greater coordinated international diplomatic efforts and coordinated policy measures. As a result, demands for better coordinated international diplomatic efforts and policy measures are raised. At the international level, knowledge of these health conditions in relation to the transnational/cross-border transmission of health hazards is necessary, as opposed to the domestic level, when a nation responds to a set of health conditions through its national health system.

After COVID-19, the world has entered a new phase in the evolution of global health diplomacy. Amidst significant obstacles to multilateralism, COVID-19 has sparked an uprising of diplomatic activity on global health including heads of state and government. The effort to fortify collective commitment by beginning high-level negotiations for a global pandemic treaty that embodies the concept of a cosmopolitan moment is a significant development in the multilateral arena. This idea has shared the global risks involuntarily, unintentionally, and compulsorily connect actors across borders and force them to act together. In this complex, ever-evolving, and diverse ecosystem of global health, it is critical to comprehend and address the relationship between risk and power in order to draw lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn Health Diplomacy With the Best Diplomats

Health diplomacy is significantly addressing challenges like healthcare access and pandemics. Cooperation and diplomacy among various stakeholders are crucial in order to advance global health equity and solve health challenges on a global scale. Best Diplomats is an international organization organizing international conferences worldwide. They provide excellent opportunities for the youth to participate in diplomatic activities and learn how diplomacy works in the international arena.

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Many examples demonstrate the success of health diplomacy and the substantial health gains that could arise from foreign policy and health alignment. The importance of health in promoting development, peace, eradicating poverty, social fairness, and human rights is being increasingly acknowledged as a foreign policy objective of the country. Health diplomacy can play a significant role in promoting sustainable development when it is addressed as a social and economic issue of great relevance and its challenges are addressed individually and collectively.  It can help nations defend their shared interests and take stances on issues that affect them all, including food security, water, the post-2015 agenda,  disease control, and access to medicines and technologies.


What are the challenges faced by health diplomacy today?

The current context of global health diplomacy is markedly different and faces a number of challenges such as the emergence of anti-establishment sentiments, the absence of a powerful transnational civil society movement, the lack of a hegemon that supports global health, and a wide range of geopolitical challenges.

How can one practice healthcare diplomacy?

Diplomacy can take the shape of public health or medical diplomacy. In order to further national objectives, it is the giving of medical help, including vaccinations, or aid. Despite having certain tougher elements, it is frequently regarded as a type of soft power.

What are the advantages of health diplomacy?

Health diplomacy addresses the socioeconomic determinants of health, arguing for just and equitable access to healthcare resources, and supporting initiatives to achieve universal healthcare coverage.  The objective of health diplomacy is to advance health equity.

What distinguishes public health from international health and global health?

Public health focuses on the health of communities within a single geographic area while global health is concerned with health concerns that affect individuals worldwide, beyond borders. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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