Rethinking the International System of Health Governance


Friday, September 15, 2017 (All day) to Sunday, September 17, 2017 (All day)


Harvard University - Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Harvard Medical School Center for Global Health Delivery–Dubai hosted a three-day interdisciplinary symposium in Cambridge, bringing together a select group of experts and practitioners to discuss the international system of health governance and its accountability to the global community.
At the center of the discussion were repeated systemic failures in health care delivery around the world. These failures are part of a broader pattern. While multilateral agencies such as the United Nations were established after World War II to provide security and promote political, economic, and social development, their ability to do so is increasingly in doubt. Tragically, at a moment in history when legitimate international institutions are desperately needed, those agencies have failed to engage effectively in global trouble spots like Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among many others. Health is not the only human right threatened by current problems of international governance, but it is an urgent area of concern to millions upon millions of highly vulnerable people.

The “Rethinking the International System” symposium was organized around three recent cases of institutional failure in global health: the cholera epidemic in Haiti, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and the global tuberculosis epidemic. Participants discussed in detail the broader implications of these episodes, and the potential role of various stakeholders in holding multilateral organizations accountable. The three central case studies were contextualized by leading experts on the history of the international system in light of evolutionary patterns in global health governance, flaws in its structure and organization, and other ongoing challenges to collective action.
The workshop concluded with participants envisioning the road toward accountability and its potential impact on the shape of the international system. At the close, participants expressed deep commitment to continuing these discussions and collaborations to address the urgent intellectual and moral problems of accountability. The stimulating presentations and provocative discussions that were had during this meeting will inform a book-length manuscript titled Privilege and Impunity, to be published in 2019 by Duke University Press.

Participants in the “Rethinking the International System” symposium represented a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, including health care, law, public policy, and academic social science and the humanities. The event was also attended by numerous Harvard students, faculty, and affiliates—several with an academic focus on the Middle East—who took active part in the discussions. The symposium was a project of the HMS Center for Global Health Delivery-Dubai’s Initiative on Healing and Humanity, which aims to promote multi-disciplinary reflection, education, and intervention for accountability in global health.

Number of Participants: 45
Countries Represented: Haiti, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America

See also: Governance