March 25, 2020

Our team is excited to share a new name for our continued work at the intersection of global public health, law, policy, and governance. Our focus has evolved and expanded to look comparatively and internationally at the rules, both formal and informal, that govern health, with particular attention to aid, rights, equity, and structures for accountability and financing. Going forward, we are the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative. This signals our understanding of policy and politics as intertwined, and often decisive, determinants of health. Each of these words perhaps deserves a bit of an explanation.

First, by including “politics” in our name, we’re highlighting how our work explicitly deals with the allocation and transfer of power as well as the multiple actors involved in health governance, including governments, international organizations, corporations, and civil society. This is not about politics in the sense of dueling political parties but instead about the range of ways that power operates in global health. Aid agencies and international organizations, ministers, judges, and social movement activists all operate within the political institutions that set the local, national and international rules of the game in the systems that produce health. These institutions impact well-being and relative accountability, transparency, equity, and inclusion. That is why our multidisciplinary team (which includes political scientists, lawyers, and policy wonks) focuses on research to understand these systems, while also working to improve them through trans-national partnerships. For example, the Global Health Policy & Politics Initiative is working with partners across East and Southern Africa and the Caribbean on a project on accountability in health aid. We are doing research on the use of aid dollars and supporting civil society groups to engage with major funders, like the U.S. PEPFAR program, in ways that increase the power of communities to influence how aid dollars are prioritized. We see opportunities in the sharing of data and the creation of shared decision-making platforms to address the democratic deficit that results from aid dollars funding public goods and decisions being made by officials unaccountable to the users of those services. Our work evaluating and supporting community-led monitoring of health services in Southern Africa is another example of how community systems can be built to improve accountability. 

Meanwhile, we research and write about how politics shapes decision-making on health. For example, how it drives government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic both at the national level and international organizations like WHO

By “policy”, we mean the authoritative rules that governments make. Broadly defined, policy includes everything from formal laws, legislation, and regulations to lower-level guidelines and strategic documents made within ministries and government departments. We also mean the policies of international organizations–from WHO-recommended public health guidelines to WTO rules on intellectual property. We track and analyze laws and policies that impact the wellbeing of people. Our focus on rights includes both normative work toward realizing a human right to health and empirical work on how laws affect health outcomes. Our HIV Policy Lab project, for example, is tracking HIV-related laws and policies across the world on 33 different issues to create a longitudinal database and set of data visualizations. These tools will allow governments, activists, and global health funders to understand—and improve—the policy environment as a key part of the work of addressing the HIV pandemic. In addition to our empirical policy research, we have a set of normative work that applies ethics and human rights to policy questions. Our project on policies for health equity focuses on how countries are using policy levers in and outside the health sector to reduce inequity in access and outcomes. Another project looked at the use of biometrics in public health surveillance of criminalized populations.  

We also have projects that work specifically at the intersection of policy and politics. With colleagues across multiple universities and leading NGOs to craft an analysis on what a post-2020 presidential strategy to end pandemics would look like to address the pandemics of today, prevent future outbreaks from becoming pandemics, and address the infectious disease impacts of climate change.

Finally, our focus on “global health” expresses our commitment to research and action that advances the “right to the high attainable standard of health” for all people across borders. Global health is many things: it is public health, foreign policy, security, investment, philanthropy. It can be a pathway to tackling injustice and inequity. We approach politics and policy both comparatively (addressing what’s happening within countries) and internationally (looking at supra-national institutions and trends) and employ the tools across these areas to understand and improve the political determinants of population health. Our initiative recognizes that much more effort is needed to address the underlying inequities within the field of global health and commit to the work of partnering in solidarity and collaboration across North and South, often led by Southern partners.

We think this name change better describes key parts of our work. It centers power, the state, and an explicit focus at the intersection of policy and politics. And we hope this, in turn, opens conversations and opportunities to explore this intersection in new and exciting ways.