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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Under the (legal) radar screen: global health initiatives and international human rights obligations

Rachel Hammonds1*, Gorik Ooms1 and Wouter Vandenhole2

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Tropical Medicine, 155 Nationalestraat, 2000, Antwerp, Belgium

2 Faculty of Law, University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, S.V.132 Venusstraat 23, 2000, Antwerp, Belgium

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2012, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-12-31

Published: 15 November 2012



Given that many low income countries are heavily reliant on external assistance to fund their health sectors the acceptance of obligations of international assistance and cooperation with regard to the right to health (global health obligations) is insufficiently understood and studied by international health and human rights scholars. Over the past decade Global Health Initiatives, like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) have adopted novel approaches to engaging with stakeholders in high and low income countries. This article explores how this experience impacted on acceptance of the international obligation to (help) fulfil the right to health beyond borders.


The authors conducted an extensive review of international human rights law literature, transnational legal process literature, global public health literature and grey literature pertaining to Global Health Initiatives. To complement this desk work and deepen their understanding of how and why different legal norms evolve the authors conducted 19 in-depth key informant interviews with actors engaged with three stakeholders; the European Union, the United States and Belgium. The authors then analysed the interviews through a transnational legal process lens.


Through according value to the process of examining how and why different legal norms evolve transnational legal process offers us a tool for engaging with the dynamism of developments in global health suggesting that operationalising global health obligations could advance the right to health for all.


In many low-income countries the health sector is heavily dependent on external assistance to fulfil the right to health of people thus it is vital that policies and tools for delivering reliable, long-term assistance are developed so that the right to health for all becomes more than a dream. Our research suggests that the Global Fund experience offers lessons to build on.

Global health initiatives; Human rights; The Global Fund to fight AIDS; Tuberculosis and Malaria; HIV; Right to health; Transnational legal process; Extraterritorial legal obligations