menu

Blizard Institute

Teaching menu

THE INTERNATIONAL POLITICS OF GLOBAL HEALTH: AN INTRODUCTION (ICM4015)

Level: First year undergraduate (level 4)

Semester: B

Course credits: 15 ECTS

Course coordinator:

Dr. Tim Huijts
Lecturer in Global Public Health
Centre for Primary Care and Public Health
Blizard Institute
Queen Mary University of London
Yvonne Carter Building, Room 1.09
58 Turner Street, E1 2AB London
Phone: (020) 7882 2497

 

Course content

Most of today’s major health problems affect people worldwide, and transcend national boundaries. Moreover, both the causes and potential solutions to these major threats to global health are often located at a global level, and in many cases related to political issues involving international institutions. To understand how politics impacts global health, a special focus on the international level is therefore justified. This course provides an introduction into the role of international politics in global health. We describe the role of the different actors in international politics, with a special focus on international institutions and their role in the governance of global health. We discuss the structures and relationships between these institutions, and how these structures and relationships influence global health. Additionally, we use insights from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to explain why international politics is so important for global health. As such, this course also serves as a general introduction to theories from political science, sociology, and economics on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Additionally, we apply these theoretical insights to five key themes that connect international politics and global health: foreign aid, alcohol and tobacco consumption, financialisation and privatisation, trade and production, and infectious diseases. This approach will reveal how basic principles on international institutions, international relations, social cooperation, and collective action can be applied to a broad range of domains in the field of global health. For each of the key themes, we focus on a number of selected characteristic cases from across the globe.

Learning aims

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Identify the key actors linking international politics to global health and their role in global health governance.
  • Describe and explain the relationships and structures between the key actors in the international politics of global health.
  • Reproduce and explain key theories relevant for global health on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.
  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases in global health.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.
  • Write clearly, concisely, and critically on the application of the knowledge obtained during the course to recent, specific cases in global health.

Relation to other BSc Global Health courses

  • This course offers an introduction to specialized courses on the role of international politics in global health (e.g., the third year course on Public health, international law and governance). Basic knowledge and skills obtained in the current course will be further developed in these specialized courses.
  • The course builds on knowledge and skills from the Semester A course on Basic issues in politics and global health. Theories and key concepts from the Semester A course (e.g., ideology) will be applied to the international politics of global health, institutional actors at the international level will be introduced in more detail, and more weight will be given to the importance of interests and incentives for global health. Additionally, general political theory will be complemented by theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action, to demonstrate why the relationship between politics and health should be examined at a global level. Often, these theories have strong connections to the theories introduced in the Semester A course on Basic issues in politics and global health.
  • The course offers a first case-based introduction to main subjects from later courses in the BSc Global Health programme (e.g., trade and globalization).
  • The course distinguishes itself from other courses in the BSc Global Health programme by also serving as a general introduction to international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Main course readings

The following list of readings will be used as the main course literature. For each week, the week-by-week programme shows which readings will be discussed. Students are expected to read these readings in advance of the lectures. Furthermore, short additional readings are assigned for some of the seminar meetings. These are also shown in the week-by-week programme.

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011).

-C. McInnes and K. Lee. Global Health & International Relations (Polity Press, 2012).

-D.P. Fidler (2007). ‘Architecture amidst Anarchy: Global Health’s Quest for Governance’, Global Health Governance, 1, 1-17.

-J.R. Youde. Global Health Governance (Polity Press, 2012).

-D. Stuckler and S. Basu. The Body Economic (Allen Lane, 2013).

Class meetings

Every week, there are two class meetings: one one-hour lecture and one two-hour seminar. All lectures are on Mondays from 10:00am to 11:00am, and all seminars are on Mondays from 11:00am to 13:00pm. During the lectures, the course material will be presented and discussed by dr. Tim Huijts. There will also be room for questions during the lectures, and students will be asked to engage actively with the lectures by answering questions from the lecturer. The seminars will focus on answering, discussing, and debating questions and assignments that are based on the lectures, the main course readings, and additional literature. Students will be actively involved in the seminars by chairing and participating in debates, giving short presentations, and discussing the seminar questions and assignments in the group.

Assessment

The final grade of the course is based on two assessments:

1) Written exam (50% of total grade). In the final week of the course, a written exam will be used to assess whether students have met the course’s learning aims. The written exam will take the form of a number of open questions covering the main course readings, the additional readings for the seminars, and the lectures.  

2) Short essay (50% of total grade). Each student will write a short essay individually. The deadline for handing in the essay is March 13, 2015, at 17:00pm. Assessment criteria for the essay will be provided at the start of the course. The essay will be limited to 1500 words.

Week 1: Introduction: international politics and global health

Theme:

The course starts with a section on theories and actors in international politics. In the first week, we give a general introduction to the issue of international politics and global health. We briefly revisit the main conclusions from the Semester A course on Basic issues on politics and global health, to show how the current course builds on and adds to that course. With several examples, we will show why many global health issues transcend the level of nations, and can therefore not be addressed sufficiently by national governments alone. We will look ahead to the theories on international relations, social cooperation and collective action that will be discussed in weeks 3 and 4, and argue why their understanding is important to examine the relationship between international politics and global health. As such, this week’s lecture and seminar will show the importance of international politics for global health, and explain the relevance of the approach taken in this course.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 30, p. 48, p. 64, and p. 79).

-Think of examples of health issues that cannot be tackled by national governments, and that require solutions at an international level. Why can national governments not sufficiently address these problems? Explain the barriers for successful solutions for governments. Can you think of international organizations that might be able to offer solutions for these particular problems?

Readings:

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Introduction and Chapters 1 to 4.

-C. McInnes and K. Lee. Global Health & International Relations (Polity Press, 2012), Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Identify the key actors linking international politics to global health and their role in global health governance.
  • Describe and explain the relationships and structures between the key actors in the international politics of global health.

Week 2: The institutional actors: an overview

Theme:

In addition to national governments, international institutions take in a central position in the international politics of global health. Most prominently, the World Health Organization is explicitly focused on studying and solving global health issues, and liaises with national governments to tackle health problems in their countries. However, several other international organizations also have an important role in the international politics of global health. This week, we will give an overview of the most important institutional actors in the international politics of global health. We will discuss the most important aims, the structure, and the history of a range of institutions such as the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Also, we will discuss at a basic level how these institutions might influence health problems, and how they interact with national governments and other actors to have an impact on global health. This serves as an introduction to the second part of the module, where we will see that institutional actors do not always succeed in improving global health.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 324 and p. 341).

-Students will be assigned to groups, and each group will work from the perspective of one international institution (e.g., the World Health Organization and the European Union). Each group will answer the following questions for their institution: (a) what can this institution do to improve global health?; (b) how would the institution try to achieve this?; and (c) does the institution need to cooperate with other international institutions and national governments to achieve this? If so, how?   

Readings:

-J.R. Youde. Global Health Governance (Polity Press, 2012), Introduction and Chapters 1 to 6.

 

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapters 19 and 20.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Identify the key actors linking international politics to global health and their role in global health governance.
  • Describe and explain the relationships and structures between the key actors in the international politics of global health.

Week 3: Theories on international relations

Theme:

As has become clear in the first two weeks of the course, global health issues cannot be tackled by national governments alone, and international institutions have a crucial role in addressing global health at an international level, in cooperation with national governments and other international institutions. But why do states in some cases cooperate, and in other cases rival each other? How does conflict between states arise? What is the role of globalization in spurring cooperation and/or conflict between states? And what is the role of international institutions in coordinating cooperation and conflict between states? These are elementary questions from the subject of international relations, and different theories on international relations have different answers to these questions. In this week’s lecture and seminar, we discuss the main six main theories on international relations: realism, liberalism, Marxism, social constructivism, post-structuralism, and post-colonialism. We will see how these theories follow from approaches to general political theory that were discussed in the course on Basic issues in politics and global health in Semester A. Finally, we will discuss how these theories lead to different predictions about the role of national governments and international institutions in dealing with contemporary global problems. Together with the lecture and seminar in week 4, this week’s lecture and seminar offer a theoretical background to the international politics of global health that will be applied to five key themes in global health in the second part of the course.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 98, p. 112, p. 128, p. 145, p. 164, p. 179, p. 194, and p. 210).

-How would the six theories on international relations explain the problem of climate change? And what do the six theories imply for possible solutions for this global problem?

Readings:

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapters 5 to 12.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Reproduce and explain key theories relevant for global health on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 4: Social cooperation and collective action in international governance

Theme:

In week 3, we discussed theories on international relations to explain why states are sometimes cooperative and sometimes in conflict. However, most of these theories cannot fully explain why international institutions are not able to solve conflicts between states. Also, it is not completely clear from these theories why international institutions sometimes have difficulty cooperating with each other, and why they do not always achieve coordination between states so that national governments cooperate with each other and with the international institutions. In this week’s lecture and seminar, we will use theories on social cooperation and collective action from economics and sociology to explain why international institutions do not necessarily make cooperation between states easier, and why solutions to global problems remain difficult in a globalized world. Basic problems in cooperation will be illustrated with examples from game theory, such as the prisoners’ dilemma and the ultimatum game. Looking at examples from the literature on collective action, we identify conditions under which collective action to solve global problems is difficult, and conditions under which collective action is feasible. These theories explain why even if all actors involved believe that they make the best decision, they may still lead to a situation that is suboptimal for all actors. In the second part of the course, these insights will be used to explain key issues in global health.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 244 and p. 308).

-Make sure to have a good understanding of the prisoners’ dilemma (see the readings) before the seminar. In the seminar we will do several exercises with the prisoners’ dilemma and similar experiments to understand why people and institutions do not always cooperate, even if it is in the best interest of all parties involved.

Readings:

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapters 14 and 18.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Reproduce and explain key theories relevant for global health on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 5: Foreign aid revisited: local, national or international politics?

Theme:

Foreign aid is provided and implemented at different levels (by local and national governments in donor countries as well as receiving countries, and by international institutions). As was concluded in the module on Basic issues on politics and global health in Semester A, foreign aid therefore needs to be examined at an international level, rather than simply looking at the role of national government in the countries involved in foreign aid schemes. In this week’s lecture and seminar, we use the six main theories on international relations to further explain why the claim that foreign aid is helpful for people in the receiving countries has often been contested. Also, these theories further help us to explain why donor countries decide to invest in foreign aid in the first place. Finally, we look at the role of the international institutions in providing and implementing foreign aid, and examine the influence of NGOs and private companies and interest groups in foreign aid initiatives.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 474).

-Who should be responsible for implementing foreign aid programmes in the receiving countries? National governments, local governments, NGOs, private companies, international institutions, or the national governments of the donor countries? For each group of actors, consider arguments for and against making them responsible for implementing foreign aid programmes.  

Readings:

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapter 28.

-C. McInnes and K. Lee. Global Health & International Relations (Polity Press, 2012), Chapter 3.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases in foreign aid.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 6: Alcohol and tobacco consumption

Theme:

Alcohol and tobacco consumption are two of the most important indirect causes of death worldwide. Whereas alcohol and tobacco use on a large scale used to be limited to Europe and North America, the consumption of alcohol and tobacco has seen a dramatic increase in other continents over the last few decades. This week, we will explain this dramatic increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption, and we discuss how health damaging behavior of this kind can be tackled. Importantly, we note that alcohol and tobacco use are truly global problems. Firstly, multinational tobacco and alcohol companies have played a large role in the increase of consumption in Africa and Asia, especially in countries with limited regulation. Especially with regulations having become more strict in Europe, and with the rise of a new middle class in Asia and Africa, tobacco and alcohol companies have changed their focus to these continents. Also, we discuss the role of lobby groups for the tobacco and alcohol industry in international institutions. Secondly, successful implementation of several policies to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption (especially taxes) is difficult when neighbouring countries fail to adopt similar policies. We discuss how these problems can be circumvented, and how international institutions might help or harm the design and implementation of policies to reduce alcohol and tobacco use.

Seminar questions:

-Why are many governments reluctant to increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol? Explain, using theories on social cooperation and collective action, and think about how international institutions could make it easier for governments to increase taxes on tobacco on alcohol.

Readings:

None

Additional readings:

-D.H. Jernigan et al. (2000). ‘Towards a global alcohol policy: alcohol, public health and the role of the WHO’. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 78, 491-499.

-P. Jha and R. Peto (2014). ‘Global effects of smoking, of quitting, and of taxing tobacco’. New England Journal of Medicine, 370, 60-68.

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases on alcohol and tobacco consumption.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 7: Reading week

Theme:

There are no lecture and seminar for this course during the reading week. However, the reading week is not a vacation week, and students are expected to complete outstanding coursework, to revise the readings, and to work on their essay.

Week 8: Financialisation and privatisation

Theme:

Evidence is mounting that the recent economic recession has had a major impact on global health, e.g. by increasing unemployment and by limiting the availability and accessibility of healthcare. However, several studies also suggest that the economic recession was mostly harmful in countries where governments decide to implement austerity policies. This was mostly done under pressure of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. In this week’s lecture and seminar, we discuss the impact of the economic recession and austerity on global health. Also, we relate the current economic recession to earlier economic shocks across the globe, such as the Great Depression in the United States and the end of communism in the former Soviet Union. We discuss research on privatization during economic shocks, that shows that privatization has often made matters worse. To understand why national governments have nonetheless repeatedly decided to privatize public services, we have a closer look at the role of international actors such as the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Also, we place current financial policy in the context of the broader trend of financialisation that started in the early 1980s. As such, this week will also reveal how political ideologies have not just influenced national governments, but also had a profound impact on international institutions.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 260).

-Austerity has a negative effect on people’s health, but still governments continue to implement austerity policies. How would the six theories on international relations explain this?

-Do you think austerity policies increase or decrease social inequalities in health? Explain.

Readings:

-D. Stuckler and S. Basu. The Body Economic (Allen Lane, 2013).

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapter 15.

Additional readings:

None

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases on financialisation and privatisation.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 9: Trade and production

Theme:

This week’s lecture will be a guest lecture by dr. David McCoy. He is the chair of Medact (www.medact.org), and an expert in the international politics of global health. He has published several articles and commentary pieces about the impact of trade on global health. In this guest lecture, he will discuss how trade influences health, and how new and proposed trade agreements may form a serious threat to global health. Further information about this guest lecture will be given closer to the date.

Seminar questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 456).

-Other seminar questions will be announced closer to the seminar, in collaboration with this week’s guest lecturer.

Readings:

-J.R. Youde. Global Health Governance (Polity Press, 2012), Chapter 9.

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapter 27.

-C. McInnes and K. Lee. Global Health & International Relations (Polity Press, 2012), Chapters 4 and 5.

Additional readings:

-D. Legge, D. Sanders and D. McCoy (2009). ‘Trade and health: the need for a political economic analysis’. Lancet, 373, 527-529.

-M. McKee and P. Belcher (2014). ‘The European Commission and pharmaceutical policy’. British Medical Journal, doi: 10.1136/bmj.g5671.

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases on trade and production.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 10: Infectious diseases: prevention and control

Theme:

In large parts of the world, infectious diseases are still responsible for a considerable share of mortality and morbidity, even though most of these diseases are preventable. The recent example of the Ebola epidemic will be used to illustrate how and why it is often difficult for international institutions to contribute effectively to quick solutions for global health problems. Also, we discuss why international institutions and other national governments only provided limited and late help to the healthcare systems of the countries that were most affected. Theories on social cooperation and collective action will be used to show why international institutions can often not fully address global health problems. Also, we will look at examples of outbreaks of other infectious diseases in the past (e.g., cholera) to identify under what conditions successful intervention to stop infectious diseases are most feasible. Finally, we address the issue of why there is sometimes little investment in research and policy to prevent infectious diseases, while prevention would be much less costly for societies and individuals involved than disease control.

Seminar questions:

-To what extent was the fact that the recent Ebola epidemic was only addressed late by international institutions due to problems of collective action? Use theories on collective action and social cooperation to answer these questions.

-How could international institutions and national governments be encouraged to invest more money and time in research and policy for the prevention of infectious diseases?

Readings:

-J.R. Youde. Global Health Governance (Polity Press, 2012), Chapters 7 and 8.

-C. McInnes and K. Lee. Global Health & International Relations (Polity Press, 2012), Chapter 6.

Additional readings:

-G. T. Keusch et al. (2010). ‘The Global Health System: Linking Knowledge with Action – Learning from Malaria’, PLoS Medicine, 7, 1-6.

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Apply key theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action to recent, specific cases on infectious diseases.
  • Critically evaluate arguments from theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.

Week 11: Summary and conclusion

Theme:

In the third and final section of the course, we formulate conclusions. First, a summary of the course will be given. We look back at the five key themes, and see to what extent overarching conclusions can be drawn from these five themes. In doing so, we also examine what the examples from the five key themes have taught us about the role of the international institutions in the international politics of global health, about theories on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action, and about the impact of structures and relationships between actors on global health. We discuss an overview of the ways through which international relations, social cooperation, and collective action have an impact on the international politics of global health, and therefore also on global health as such. Additionally, we examine potential solutions for today’s major global health threats, and consider whether these solutions can be found at the level of local, national, or international politics. Finally, we discuss some ethical issues in the international politics of global health, for politicians, policy makers, and health professionals, but also for scientists.

Seminar questions:

Students are asked to prepare their own questions about the readings and the lectures. The answers to their questions will be discussed during the seminar. Also, students will get the opportunity to answer and discuss example exam questions. As such, the final seminar is intended to revise the course material, solve outstanding problems and clarifications, and to prepare for the written exam. Additionally, students are asked to consider the following questions:

-Questions for discussion in Baylis et al. (p. 524).

-If we want to improve global health, should we aim at changing international politics or national politics in countries worldwide? Use Frenk’s article and the knowledge about the international politics of global health that you obtained in this course to answer this question.

-What changes do you propose to international institutions and global health governance that would contribute to a better response to the major threats to global health? Give three concrete recommendations.

Readings:

-J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens. The Globalization of World Politics, 5th Edition (Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapter 31.

-D.P. Fidler (2007). ‘Architecture amidst Anarchy: Global Health’s Quest for Governance’, Global Health Governance, 1, 1-17.


Additional readings:

-J. Frenk (2010). ‘The Global Health System: Strengthening National Health Systems as the Next Step for Global Progress’, PLoS Medicine, 7, 1-3.

-S. Moon et al. (2010). ‘The Global Health System: Lessons for a Stronger Institutional Framework’, PLoS Medicine, 7, 1-5.

Learning objectives:

When you have completed the reading and participated in the taught components for this week, we hope you will be able to:

  • Reproduce and explain key theories relevant for global health on international relations, social cooperation, and collective action.
  • Write clearly, concisely, and critically on the application of the knowledge obtained during the course to recent, specific cases in global health.

Week 12: Exam

Theme:

There is no lecture and seminar for this course in Week 12. Instead, the students will take a written exam.

Return to top