Researching Global Health Law

By Julienne E. Grant

Julienne E. Grant currently serves as Instructor & Reference Librarian at the Louis L. Biro Law Library at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. She previously spent almost eighteen years as the Foreign & International Research Specialist at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Ms. Grant has contributed to published guides on Mexican and Cuban law, and she recently co-authored a chapter (with Teresa M. Miguel-Stearns) in Latin American Collection Concepts: Essays on Libraries, Collaborations and New Approaches (McFarland, 2019). She is a member of the FCIL-SIS of the American Association of Law Libraries and has served as Chair of its Latin American Law Interest Group. Ms. Grant earned a B.A. magna cum laude in Spanish from Middlebury College, an M.A. in Ibero-American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A.L.S. from Rosary College (now Dominican University), and a J.D. cum laude from DePaul University. In 2019, Ms. Grant earned a Certificate in Editing from the Graham School at the University of Chicago, and she is a freelance editor, writer, and translator.

Published May/June 2023

(Previously updated by Chenglin Liu in January/February 2010 and by Julienne E. Grant in May/June 2018)

See the Archive Version!

1. Introduction

As the 2018 precursor of this update explained, the terms “international health law” and “global health law” are often used interchangeably, although some scholars distinguish between the two.

For example, Professor Jennifer J. Prah (University of Pennsylvania) views global health law as a much broader field than international health law: “International health law connotes a more traditional approach derived from rules governing relations among nation-states. Global health law, on the other hand, is developing an international structure based on the world as a community, not just a collection of nation-states.”[1] On a similar vein, Professor Lawrence O. Gostin, Faculty Director of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law, views the topic of global health law as including the roles of both state and non-state actors (e.g., NGOs), national health legislation, and international legal regimes that interact with public health (e.g., human rights, trade, and intellectual property).[2] The overall goal of global health law, in his view, is to develop an international normative framework that strives for health equity.[3]

Drawing on these descriptions, the topic of global health law is indeed quite broad, effectively encompassing the relationships and interplay among public health, “hard” and “soft” law instruments, and state and non-state actors. Since this guide’s 2018 update, the area of global health law has unsurprisingly been dominated by the subtopic of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is generally (but not thoroughly) covered here. Other GlobaLex articles explore (and will explore) the pandemic in more detail (see, e.g., “The Execution of the International Public Contract during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Comparative Perspective” [Nov./Dec. 2022]).

This 2023 update will again include a wide array of resources, ranging from primary international law instruments to databases that contain domestic health-related legislation. Also included are suggestions for researching the relationships between global health law and international human rights, trade, and intellectual property. In terms of format, the guide emphasizes electronic sources, but some print monographs are also mentioned. All of the listed resources are available in English, although several are multilingual. The aggregate purpose of the guide is to provide a comprehensive roadmap for researching the highly complex and dynamic field of global health law, which now includes the COVID-19 pandemic within its topical scope.

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2. Recent Books & Articles

The following are books and articles (published 2020–2023) on the general topic of global health law and its fledgling subtopic, the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Bennett, Belinda, Ian Freckleton, and Gabrielle Wolf. COVID-19 Law & Regulation: Rights, Freedoms, and Obligations in a Pandemic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023).
  • Campbell, Sophie. “How Can Global Health Law Change After COVID-19?” GHAR 1, no. 6 (Sept. 2021): 142–144.
  • Eccleston-Turner, Mark, and Clare Wenham. Declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern: Between International Law and Politics (Bristol, England: Bristol University Press, 2021).
  • Gostin, Lawrence O. Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2021).
  • Gostin, Lawrence O., and Benjamin Mason Meier, eds. Foundations of Global Health & Human Rights (New York: Oxford Academic, 2020).
  • Gostin, Lawrence O., Roojin Habibi, and Benjamin Mason Meier. “Has Global Health Law Risen to Meet the COVID-19 Challenge? Revisiting the International Health Regulations to Prepare for Future Threats,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 48, no. 2 (2020): 376–381. DOI: 10.1177/1073110520935354.
  • Granmo, Anders, and Pieter Fourie. Health Norms and the Governance of Global Development: The Invention of Global Health (Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England: Routledge, 2021).
  • Gross, Aeyal. “The Past, Present, and Future of Global Health Law Beyond Crisis,” American Journal of International Law 115, no. 4 (Oct. 2021): 754–771. DOI:
  • Halabi, Sam F. “The Origins and Future of Global Health Law: Regulation, Security, and Pluralism,” Georgetown Law Journal 108, no. 6 (2020): 1607–1654.
  • Meier, Benjamin Mason, Roojin Habibi, and Lawrence O. Gostin. “A Global Health Law Trilogy: Transformational Reforms to Strengthen Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 50, no. 3 (2022): 625–627. DOI:
  • Sekalala, Sharifah, and Haleema Masud. “Soft Law Possibilities in Global Health Law,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 49, no. 1 (2021): 152–155. DOI:
  • Toebes, Brigit C. A. et al. Global Health Law Disrupted: COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis, Royal Netherlands Society of International Law, Collected Papers 148 (The Hague: Asser Press, Nov. 2021).

3. Electronic Research Guides

The research guides listed below, hosted on academic library sites, collectively cover global health law and the related field of global health. Also noteworthy is the annual Guide to International Legal Research (George Washington International Law Review, LexisNexis), which contains a lengthy chapter on “Public Health” (ch. 27 in the 2022 edition) and a subsection on COVID-19 (sec. 27.02[4]). The guide is available in LexisNexis (and in print).

4. Locating Secondary Sources

Secondary materials on global health law are plentiful, particularly as they pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional reference sources in the forms of encyclopedias, compendiums, and handbooks include lengthy entries and chapters of value for researchers. Useful monographs and journal articles, as well as unpublished theses and dissertations, are also available. Various “current awareness” tools, such as online newspapers and blogs, follow developments in global health, the COVID-19 pandemic, and their associated norms. Several excellent commercial and free databases are available to assist with research in this area. Note that secondary sources on “medical law” may also yield relevant information despite their different focus; medical law traditionally pertains to the interactions between doctors and their patients.[4]

4.1. Encyclopedias, Compendiums & Handbooks

The following reference materials are pertinent to global health law research. Some were published during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Grogan, Joelle, and Alice Donald, eds. Routledge Handbook of Law and the COVID-19 Pandemic (Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England: Routledge, 2022). Covers such topics as governance and democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and states of emergency in specific jurisdictions.
  • Jacob, Marie-Andrée, and Anna Kirkwood. Research Handbook on Socio-Legal Studies of Medicine and Health (Cheltenham, Gloucester, England: Edward Elgar, 2020). This is a twenty-four-chapter book that covers a wide array of topics related to socio-legal studies, including DNA ancestry tests.
  • King, Jeff, and Octávio Ferraz, eds. Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to COVID-19 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021–). Open-access platform that provides detailed country-by-country descriptions of how existing and new norms have been applied in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The compendium is part of the Lex-Atlas: COVID-19 project.
  • Nys, Herman, ed. International Encyclopaedia for Medical Law* (Amsterdam: Kluwer Law International, 2002–). Available on the Kluwer Law Online* platform, and in loose-leaf format, this title is part of the larger International Encyclopaedia of Laws series. Both national and international medical laws are explored, and there is a separate monograph on the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Oberleitner, Gerd, ed. Research Handbook on International Law and Human Security (Cheltenham, Gloucester, England: Edward Elgar, 2022). See chapter 19 on “Global Health Law: WHO, COVID-19, and Human Security” (Lisa Forman, pp. 339–354).
  • Ó’Néill, Clayton et al., eds. Routledge Handbook of Global Health Rights (Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England: Routledge, 2021). According to the publisher’s description, the book “examines the idea of a fundamental entitlement to health and healthcare from a human rights perspective.”
  • Orentlicher, David, and Tamara K. Hervey, eds. Oxford Handbook of Comparative Health Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022). Primarily focusing on the United States and the European Union, this work addresses a wide range of topics, including genetics, access to healthcare, patient autonomy, organ transplantation, and reproductive rights.
  • Toebes, Brigit, and Gian Luca Burci, eds. Research Handbook on Global Health Law (Cheltenham, Gloucester, England: Edward Elgar, 2018). The book’s editors, Professors Toebes and Burci, are well-known global health law scholars. The title is interdisciplinary in its approach and includes chapters on global health and armed conflict and the international intellectual property regime as it relates to health issues.
  • Wolfrum, Rüdiger, ed. Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law* (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008–). This is one of the most authoritative reference sources in the field of public international law. Examples of content pertaining to global health law are “Public Health, International Cooperation” (Makane Moïse Mbengue) and “Health, Right to, International Protection” (Eibe Riedel).

4.2. Books

Searching on the following Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in online library catalogs will yield books related to the general topic of global health law as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that snippets of books are often available on Google Books.

  • COVID-19 (disease)—Law and Legislation
  • Globalization—Health aspects
  • Medical Laws and Legislation, International
  • Public Health—International Cooperation
  • Public Health Laws, International
  • Right to Health
  • World Health

4.3. Journals & Periodical Indexes

Several English-language law journals focus on global health law. Articles on this topic also appear occasionally in journals that concentrate on health law generally or on the topic of global health. The following is a selected list of periodicals that cover the field of global health law. Many of the titles are open access.

Medical journals can also be useful for researching the area of global health law. Examples are the subscription-based New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Lancet. Some medical journals are available full text in interdisciplinary commercial databases like JSTOR. For general guidance on medical research, consult an online electronic guide such as A Guide to Health & Medical Research (University of Denver Libraries). Also noteworthy is Elsevier’s SSRN, which is an excellent resource for locating open access working drafts and published pieces related to health law and policy in the international context.

The following online journal databases and indexes can also help identify and locate relevant articles.

  • Global Index Medicus (GIM). WHO regional office libraries collect and aggregate materials for the GIM database. GIM contains over one million bibliographic records of biomedical and public health literature from and about low- and middle-income countries.
  • HeinOnline Law Journal Library* The HeinOnline Law Journal Library contains scanned images of U.S. and some foreign law reviews, generally back to their inception. An index of journal titles is available by country of publication and “Pathfinder Subject” (see, e.g., “Health Law and Policy”).
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals* (IFLP). IFLP, available electronically through HeinOnline, indexes foreign (including some non-English-language) law journals. Journal titles are listed by region and country. IFLP is produced by the American Association of Law Libraries.
  • PubMed: PubMed is a large collection of medical and health science databases that together include millions of citations to international literature in medicine, nursing, veterinary science, and dentistry. Some records include links to full-text content. PubMed is maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

4.4. Theses & Dissertations

Often overlooked by legal researchers, theses and dissertations contain exhaustive research and extensive bibliographies, and can be useful sources of information on global health law. Along with the web platforms listed below, many universities post digital copies of their own students’ theses and dissertations.

  • DART-Europe E-theses Portal: This open-access portal is a partnership of various European research libraries and library consortia. It provides access to theses from over 500 European universities, representing 29 countries. The database is multilingual.
  • Open Access Theses and Dissertations: This is an online collection of open-access theses and dissertations from around the globe. Over 1,000 education and research institutions are represented.
  • ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global*: According to the database description, PQDT Global “is the world’s most comprehensive curated collection of multi-disciplinary dissertations and theses from around the world, offering over 5 million citations and 3 million full-text works from thousands of universities.”

5. Databases & Websites

The following databases and websites are useful for identifying and accessing primary and secondary sources related to global health law, global health, COVID-19, and associated topics.

  • Bloomberg Law Health Practice Center*: Although it emphasizes U.S. federal and state law, this platform can be useful for tracking developments in health law at the international level. In addition to current reports and analyses, it offers the full texts of several treatises that include global health law in their scope. The Health Practice Center is available to Bloomberg Law* subscribers.
  • Columbia International Affairs Online* (CIAO): CIAO is an international affairs database that includes the full texts of books, policy briefs, conference papers, journal articles, and other secondary materials. It is available via Columbia University Press.
  • Global Health*: Produced by the UK-based Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), and available electronically via EBSCO, this database serves as an index to international medical and health scholarship. The resource indexes the content of over 7,000 journals and other specialized materials, with coverage beginning in 1973. Publications collectively represent more than 100 countries, and some content is available in full text.
  • Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS): The ODS database contains born-digital UN documents published since 1993 and scanned documents published between 1949 and 1993. The database can be searched by topic (select “Health” or related topics using the site’s subject index). ODS is maintained by the United Nations’ Office of Information and Communications Technology.
  • Summaries of EU Legislation: Public Health: This page provides a descriptive overview of European Union laws and policies related to public health. For a list of EU health legislation in force, see “Directory of EU Legislation: Health Protection.”
  • United Nations Digital Library: This database contains UN-produced materials in digital format, voting data, speeches, maps, open-access publications, and bibliographic records for UN print documents beginning in 1979.
  • United Nations iLibrary*: The iLibrary contains over 8,000 digitized books and other materials published by various UN agencies. Users can read the sources online, but a subscription is required to download PDFs. See “Public Health” under “Browse by Subject” for health-related materials.

6. Current Awareness: News Sources & Blogs

Newspaper and news websites, as well as blogs, can be excellent sources for information on international developments in health law and public health. The following is a list of selected news sources and blogs that cover these topics. Note that a comprehensive collection of links for legal-related blogs is available in JUSTIA’s BlawgSearch; the lists there are organized by practice area, geographic focus, and by law school sponsorship. Try both the “Health Care Law” and “International Law” categories for blogs that may be useful for global health law research.

  • FCGH Alliance: The FCGH Alliance is an NGO created under Swiss law to promote health justice and a proposed Framework Convention on Global Health. The organization’s website provides updates on global health law in general as well as the status of the proposed convention.
  • Global Health Law Groningen Blog: This blog is hosted by the Groningen Centre for Health Law (GCHL) at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). Most of the authors are affiliated with GCHL. See also the GCHL Student Blog.
  • Global Legal Monitor: Compiled by personnel at the Law Library of Congress, the Monitor provides regular e-mail updates on legal developments around the world. See the topical index to identify posts on various health-related legal topics.
  • O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law ‘Opinion & Analysis’: The O’Neill Institute is part of the Georgetown University Law Center. Contributors to the ‘Opinion & Analysis’ section include members of the O’Neill Institute’s faculty.

A hodgepodge of legal instruments constitutes the framework of global health law. These norms encompass both “hard” (binding) and “soft” (non-binding) law and are enacted by state and non-state actors. Both types of norms were frequently issued during the COVID-19 pandemic at the international, national, and local levels.

7.1. The World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations, is the world’s foremost health IGO. Established in 1948, it plays a major role in promulgating health law instruments, which it does primarily through its World Health Assembly (currently, 194 members). More specifically, the Constitution of the WHO provides for the adoption of conventions and agreements (Article 19), regulations (Article 21), and recommendations (Article 23). A compilation of the WTO’s basic documents (current through May 31, 2019) is available in PDF format via the WTO website.

The WHO played a central role during the COVID-19 pandemic—providing information and data about the spread of the disease, issuing technical and scientific guidance, coordinating a global response, and distributing vaccine doses. WHO materials related to the pandemic, including a timeline of WHO activity, are posted on the WHO website. For more on this topic, see Müller, Gustavo, Melanie Ruelens, and Jan Wouters, “The role of the World Health Organization in the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (2021).

Although the WHO has tremendous law-making power, it has only negotiated three binding, “hard” law instruments since its inception, which are listed below. The WHO, however, is currently sponsoring and coordinating the drafting of a treaty “to “strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”[5] WHO documents related to this process are posted on the WHO website.

  • International Health Regulations (IHR): The current version of the IHR entered into force on June 15, 2007. The regulations require all WHO members to monitor public health within their borders and to notify the WHO if they detect a public health emergency of international concern, such as the COVID-19 disease. An amendment to the IHR entered into force on July 11, 2016.
  • Nomenclature Regulations: The Regulations were adopted on May 22, 1967. They require WHO members to use the most current version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (now in its tenth revision) for mortality and morbidity statistics. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC): The FCTC was adopted on May 21, 2003, by the WHO’s World Health Assembly. The agreement calls for the reduction in supply and demand for tobacco products and the sharing of information and resources. The FCTC went into force on February 27, 2005; it has 168 signatories and 182 parties and is now closed for signature.[6] The United States is a signatory but not a party. A first Protocol to the FCTC was adopted on November 12, 2012, and entered into force on September 25, 2018.[7]

In addition to “hard” law, the WHO enacts “soft” norms, such as recommendations, under Article 23 of its constitution. Prominent recommendations include the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (1981), the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (2010), and the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework (2021). Other “soft” law WHO instruments are resolutions, decisions, annexes, action plans, and various global strategies. These documents, as well as WHO General Assembly and Executive Board materials, are available on the organization’s website via the main “Governance” tab or via the WHO’s IRIS database (Institutional Repository for Information Sharing). For more on the WTO and its normative powers, see Chapter 4 (“Fulfilling the Promise of the World Health Organization”) in Professor Lawrence O. Gostin’s Global Health Law (Harvard UP, 2014).

7.2. Non-WHO Instruments

Also, part of the developing global health law framework are norms promulgated outside the WHO context. These include “hard” law international instruments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), which guarantees the individual’s right to the highest possible level of physical and mental health.[8] In general, for multilateral treaties that address health and health-related matters, conduct keyword or subject searches in the United Nations Treaty Collection. See also the 2010 version of this guide under “Basic Documents-Treaties of International Health Law” and the Annex in Fact Sheet No. 31 on “The Right to Health” (WHO and OHCHR, 2008).

8. International Human Rights, Trade & Intellectual Property

The scope of global health law includes peripheral areas that impact public health, including international human rights, trade, and intellectual property law. The “right to health” itself is a fundamental tenet of human rights law that is articulated in a number of international agreements.[9] For an in-depth discussion of the link between global health and human rights, see the above-mentioned Foundations of Global Health & Human Rights (Oxford UP, 2020). For researching international human rights generally, see the GlobaLex contribution “UPDATE: Researching International Human Rights” (Jan./Feb. 2021).

International trade law and intellectual property law are also closely related to global health, particularly as observed during the pandemic. The international trade system, for example, can influence the quality and prices of medicine, and the outcomes of trade disputes can have public health implications.[10] In terms of intellectual property, securing patent protection for life-saving drugs can make those drugs prohibitively expensive for some members of the world’s population.[11] For a thorough overview of the complex relationship between global health law and international trade and intellectual property regimes, see Chapter 9 (“Global Health, International Trade, and Intellectual Property”) in Gostin’s Global Health Law (2014). Also valuable is the GlobaLex contribution “UPDATE: Research Guide on TRIPS and Compulsory Licensing: Access to Innovative Pharmaceuticals for Least Developed Countries” (July/Aug. 2016) and the NYU Law Library’s WTO/GATT Research guide. To identify recent scholarship on the relationship between COVID-19 and international trade and intellectual property, combine the latter as search terms in the above-mentioned journal databases or on Google Scholar.

9. International & Regional Organizations

The websites of various international and regional organizations can be useful for locating general information about global health law, as well as relevant research and policy papers. All of the websites of the organizations listed below include virtual collections of materials.

10. Institutes, Centers & Other Initiatives

Listed below are various initiatives that focus on global health law and/or global health policy.

11. Finding Foreign Health Legislation & Cases

National health legislation interacts with international instruments to form part of the global health law framework. For guidance on identifying these laws, see GlobaLex’s “UPDATE: Introduction to Researching Foreign Law” (Nov./Dec. 2020) and Brill Reference’s Foreign Law Guide*. Hein’s Multinational Sources Compared: A Subject and Jurisdiction Index* (2nd ed.) will lead researchers to sources that analyze foreign health law regimes by country. The* database can be searched to locate the texts of health-related laws and regulations from over 100 jurisdictions. Also useful is the International Labour Organization’s free LEGOSH database, which contains domestic health legislation within the rubric of labor and employment. Other resources for identifying foreign health legislation and judgments are listed below.

The COVID-19 Law Lab gathers and shares legal documents from over 190 countries. The site is a project of various NGOs and IGOs, including the UNDP, the WHO, and the IPU.

This free resource was developed by the Lawyers Collective, the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law, and an international network of NGOs, academic institutions, and private researchers. The database includes domestic judgments related to health law issues, organized by country.

12. Libraries with Noteworthy Collections

Along with law school and medical school libraries, several special-topic libraries include collections pertinent to global health law research. Below is a short list of these. Note that not all these libraries are open to the public, but they may provide assistance via telephone or email.

[1] Jennifer Prah Ruger, Normative Foundations of Global Health Law, 96 GEO. L.J. 423, 424 (2008).

[2] See Lawrence O. Gostin, Global Health Law 59–60 (2014).

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Murray Earle, Medical Law (Law Essentials) 1–2 (2007).

[5] Press Release, World Health Organization, World Health Assembly Agrees to Launch Process to Develop Historic Global Accord on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (Dec. 1, 2021),; see also Lawrence O. Gostin, Kevin A. Klock & Sam F. Halab, “Inching Closer to an Essential Pandemic Treaty,” STAT, First Opinion (Aug. 3, 2022),

[6] WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2302 U.N.T.S. 166 (entered into force on Feb. 27, 2005), (last visited Mar. 12, 2023).

[7] Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Traffic in Tobacco Products, adopted on Nov. 12, 2012 (entered into force on Sept. 25, 2018), (last visited Mar. 12, 2023).

[8] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 12, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force Jan. 3, 1976), (last visited Mar. 12, 2023).

[9] For a discussion of the “right to health” as articulated in international “hard” law instruments, see Roger Magnuson et al., Advancing the Right to Health: The Vital Role of Law (2017),

[10] See Gostin, supra note 2, at 270–71, 278–80.

[11] Id. at 289.