Emerging Trends in International Law Concerning Global Infectious Disease Control

David P. Fidler


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2003;9(3) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

International cooperation has become critical in controlling infectious diseases. In this article, I examine emerging trends in international law concerning global infectious disease control. The role of international law in horizontal and vertical governance responses to infectious disease control is conceptualized; the historical development of international law regarding infectious diseases is described; and important shifts in how states, international institutions, and nonstate organizations use international law in the context of infectious disease control today are analyzed. The growing importance of international trade law and the development of global governance mechanisms, most prominently in connection with increasing access to drugs and other medicines in unindustrialized countries, are emphasized. Traditional international legal approaches to infectious disease control-embodied in the International Health Regulations-may be moribund.

Globalization creates challenges for infectious disease policy.[1,2,3] These challenges are horizontal and vertical in nature. Horizontal challenges constitute problems that arise between states from global microbial traffic.[4] Vertical challenges, such as inadequate surveillance capacity,[5] are problems countries face inside their territories that require responses within states. States cannot handle horizontal or vertical challenges without cooperating with each other. Unilateral efforts have limited impact when the source of the problem is beyond national jurisdiction.[6] Similarly, unindustrialized countries need assistance to improve domestic public health.[7] International cooperation mechanisms, including international law, are crucial to respond to both types of challenges. I examine the role international law plays in responses to horizontal and vertical challenges, analyze the historical development of international law in this area, and explore emerging trends in international law on infectious diseases that depart from traditional patterns.


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