WHO is the sole global health organization and, as such, has been traditionally considered the lead actor in this domain at the center and the forefront of technical, policy and normative developments in global health governance. Its Constitution and institutional structure represent both the embodiment of a new way of thinking about global health and its governance at the time of creation of the UN system as well as the outcome of political compromises that have affected the life of the organization and its positioning in the global health landscape. The historical development of WHO’s functions and activities are also an emblematic reflection of the changing role of health in the global economic, political and development agendas and, as such, can shed light on broader issue of international law and relations. WHO’s role and significance as the central actor in global health governance has been the object of contestation and much critical reflection starting in the 1990s and culminating with the organization’s role in responding to the Ebola crisis. At the same time, global health governance has become more complex, fragmented and politicized and the future role of WHO has to be seen in the context of those developments and the search for a coherent global health architecture.
The course will focus on four broad areas covering the most important aspects of WHO as an international organization, an actor in global health governance, and a forum for policy and legal developments: 1) Historical, constitutional and institutional aspects; 2) normative functions and the role of WHO in the development of international law; 3) directing and coordinating functions, both in terms of how to address the most important health challenges as well as with regard to WHO’s interaction with a number of political and economic regimes; 4) the position of WHO in the current global health landscape, both with regard to the role of other actors as well as to how the organization should look to its own future. The course will allow students to gain not only an in-depth knowledge and appreciation of WHO from an institutional and structural perspective, but also most importantly to appreciate the main contemporary challenges in global health as well as the role of health in a number of critical policy and normative regimes. The approach of the course will be based on lecturing, class discussions and at least one class exercise. Prof. Burci’s former tenure as the Legal Counsel of WHO and a long-term senior lawyer in the organization will allow him to contribute real-life examples and experiences that will better root the course in the realities of the life of an international organization.