University Of Tasmania

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The legal determinants of health: harnessing the power of law for global health and sustainable development

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 03:31 authored by Gostin, OL, Monahan, JT, Jenny KaldorJenny Kaldor, DeBartolo, M, Friedman, EA, Gottschalk, K, Kim, SC, Alwan, A, Binagwaho, A, Luca Burci, G, Cabal, L, DeLand, K, Grant Evans, T, Goosby, E, Hossain, S, Koh, H, G, Ooms, Periago, MR, Uprimny, R, Yamin, AE

Health risks in the 21st century are beyond the control of any government in any country. In an era of globalisation, promoting public health and equity requires cooperation and coordination both within and among states. Law can be a powerful tool for advancing global health, yet it remains substantially underutilised and poorly understood. Working in partnership, public health lawyers and health professionals can become champions for evidence-based laws to ensure the public's health and safety.

This Lancet Commission articulates the crucial role of law in achieving global health with justice, through legal instruments, legal capacities, and institutional reforms, as well as a firm commitment to the rule of law. The Commission's aim is to enhance the global health community's understanding of law, regulation, and the rule of law as effective tools to advance population health and equity.

The term law throughout is used to mean legal instruments such as statutes, treaties, and regulations that express public policy, as well as the public institutions (eg, courts, legislatures, and agencies) responsible for creating, implementing, and interpreting the law. By establishing the rules and frameworks that shape social and economic interactions, laws exert a powerful force on all the social determinants of health. Well designed laws can help build strong health systems, ensure safe and nutritious foods, evaluate and approve safe and effective drugs and vaccines, create healthier and safer workplaces, and improve the built and natural environments. However, laws that are poorly designed, implemented, or enforced can harm marginalised populations and entrench stigma and discrimination.

This Commission brings together global leaders in the fields of health, law, and governance. We make the case for better, more strategic linkages between health and law, and the professionals who work in both fields. We begin by providing a short explanation of legal terms and concepts, and the actors and institutions that govern health. Our report is structured around four legal determinants of health, each of which powerfully affects health outcomes. We use the term legal determinants of health because it demonstrates the power of law to address the underlying social and economic causes of injury and disease. These four legal determinants show how law can substantially influence health and equity. We do not endeavour a systematic review of law in global health, but rather to advocate for, and demonstrate, the crucial value of law in advancing global health with justice. Finally, drawing on identified areas for reform, as well as principles of good governance and the right to health, we offer seven concrete recommendations for action.


Publication title

The Lancet










Faculty of Law


Lancet Ltd

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2019 Elsevier Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Social structure and health; Justice and the law not elsewhere classified