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Putting Humanitarian Health First: G7 Summit Health Performance, 1975–2020

As July 2020 unfolds, the global toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic has surpassed 11 million cases and half a million deaths. This outbreak, which began in China in late 2019 and then swiftly spread to Europe and the United States, has moved into the developing world in Latin America and Africa and had a second spike in the United States. As the pandemic proliferated, the world looked to the key global summit institutions to cope, starting with the G7 major market democracies at its emergency video summit on March 16, 2020. Yet, after a second G7 emergency video summit a month later, G7 leaders stopped meeting, even as the pandemic escalated into its new epicentres in the developing world and in the United States again. This highlighted the perennial question: does the G7 govern health for itself and its own, largely affluent citizens at home, or does it govern health for all, including the largely poorer people in the global community as a whole? In particular, does it govern health primarily as a biomedical problem addressing the diseases of the rich through the instruments that rich, developed countries produce, possess and prefer, or does it govern health as a global humanitarian problem focused on saving the lives of poor people in poor countries throughout the developing world from the diseases that harm them most, using the instruments they can afford or internationally secure? To answer this key question, this study examines G7 summit health commitments and its members’ compliance with them from the G7’s start in 1975 through to its most recent summit that produced a public communiqué on March 16, 2020. It focuses on the differences between “regular” health commitments focused on issues and instruments in the Global North, such as cancer, anti-microbial resistance, medical staff training, research and development, and best practices, and “humanitarian health” commitments focused on the diseases that overwhelmingly kill poor people in poor countries in the Global South, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, neglected tropical diseases and Ebola (see Appendix A). As COVID-19 is a disease that kills both, it is categorized according to the instruments identified in the commitments addressing it.

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Dobson S
Kirton J
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G7 Research Group
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