What is Public Health Emergency Legal Preparedness?
Public health emergency legal preparedness is the capability to map, develop, refine, and utilize legal frameworks and to ensure the availability of a trained workforce to enable the implementation of public health capacities and measures (including strategies to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies, whatever their source or nature), especially during unpredictable and large-scale emergencies that pose local, regional, national, or global public health risks.
Public health emergency legal preparedness encourages and aims to facilitate efficient and effective coordination among relevant multi-sectoral stakeholders and as well as support the overall continuous process of planning for public health emergencies.
Legal preparedness is a critical component of health security as it can facilitate the prevention, detection, and rapid response to public health emergencies. Law can both hinder or strengthen a wide range of public health emergency prevention, preparedness, and response activities depending on how legal authorities are employed and coordinated. Legal instruments (e.g., constitutions, legislation, regulations, arrêtés, decrees, and applicable international agreements) can help create sustainable legal infrastructure and yield consistent decision-making at all levels before, during, and after an emergency. Yet, to date, there is insufficient attention paid at the local, national, regional, and international levels to the importance of having a strong integrated system of legal preparedness in place ahead of a crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a range of legal challenges that arise during a response to a public health emergency or while trying to prevent it, including, but not limited to:
- The need for emergency laws to trigger the operationalization of public health measures;
- Social distancing measures, including quarantine and isolation; and
- Equitable access to medical countermeasures, including diagnostics, vaccine, therapeutics, medical devices, among other topics.
While legal limitations were also observed during past public health emergencies, the magnitude of the problem is significantly more apparent due to the scale of the pandemic, with the pandemic overwhelming national responses and leading to unprecedented morbidity and mortality. The legal challenges experienced by countries therefore call for greater awareness about the importance of public health emergency preparedness for an efficient and effective response as well as for the development of legal tools to achieve more comprehensive preparedness in the future.
Ultimately, legal preparedness saves critical time before, during, and after public health emergencies by ensuring that all requisite legal capacities already exist and have been tested and, whenever possible, potential issues have been resolved in advance. This means more time and energy can be reserved for the public health, communication, and scientific dimensions of the prevention and response. Additionally, as more countries become better legally prepared for public health emergencies, global health security is strengthened.
Purpose of GHSA Legal Preparedness Action Package
The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Legal Preparedness Action Package aims to bring key experts on legal preparedness together to build a solid foundation and common understanding of the competencies necessary for strengthening public health emergency legal preparedness by developing technical tools to guide and support countries in strengthening their capacity as well as advocating for greater global awareness about the role that legal preparedness plays in preventing, preparing for, and responding to public health emergencies.
Why the Global Health Security Agenda?
GHSA is well-positioned to serve as the foundation for global legal preparedness as it seeks to build capacity at the country level to support and achieve greater global health security. As such, GHSA can help frame public health emergency legal preparedness as a critical capacity around the world and support country-level legal preparedness. As a multilateral and multisectoral initiative that works at the policy and technical levels and is in a position to take action to address gaps in global health security, GHSA offers the ideal platform to bring together global health and public health law experts, international organizations, and government officials from around the world who can work collaboratively to better define legal preparedness and develop a series of innovative tools and methodology—informed by lessons learned from practical experience, policies, institutional knowledge, and academic research—to support countries in achieving greater legal preparedness.
How will the Legal Preparedness Action Package Advance Public Health Emergency Legal Preparedness?
The Legal Preparedness Action Package will set a foundation for legal preparedness by developing technical tools and guidance to support countries in building their legal preparedness capacity. This includes the creation of the Legal Preparedness Working Group (LPWG), a strong network of technical experts who will work together throughout the duration Legal Preparedness Action Package to raise greater awareness about the role that legal preparedness plays in preparing for public health emergencies. By linking an international network of experts together, the Legal Preparedness Action Package will build a strong advocacy platform for legal preparedness as well as develop much needed technical resources for countries to review and strengthen legal capacities to respond to future emergencies.
Outreach and Advocacy
- Identify and engage relevant stakeholders across multiple sectors and geographic regions, either as new LP AP members or as external partners, to draw upon their respective comparative advantages and strengths for coordinated action to promote, build, and achieve greater legal preparedness.
- Bring multisectoral awareness and support, including at the local level, to recognize legal preparedness as a critical public health capacity by showing the importance of legal preparedness for health emergency preparedness and response and to achieve global health security outcomes.
- Define legal preparedness, its relation to other health security or disaster law capacities, and the importance of sub-national, national, regional, and global legal preparedness to achieve global health security outcomes. Building guidance tools to support domestic and global health security, working with existing mechanisms to support countries in reviewing, developing, and testing legal instruments in place to support overall legal preparedness.
- Identify and leverage existing efforts, mandates, and tools to develop, refine, and bring to scale approaches to build country capacity (including strengthening sub-national level capacities), incorporate standardized legal benchmarks, and facilitate progress toward legal preparedness for countries to implement priority activities identified in their National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS).
- Establish a global learning network to build, at national, regional, and global levels, using a variety of platforms (virtual courses, collaborative webinars, in-person trainings, etc.) to expand legal preparedness competencies within Ministries of Health and other relevant government sectors (Ministries of Finance, Ministries of Justice, etc.) as well as other relevant institutions.
Argentina, Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, and the United States
Georgetown University Law Center’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law
Legal Preparedness Working Group (LPWG)
Led by the Co-Chairs, the LPWG serves as the technical arm of the Legal Preparedness Action Package. The group consists of experts from a wide range of stakeholder institutions that captures the broad cross-cutting scope of legal preparedness. These include GHSA member countries, multilateral organizations (international organizations, intergovernmental organizations, regional organizations, etc.), and non-governmental stakeholders (academic institutions, civil society organizations, etc.). The LPWG is further divided into sub-working groups, each tasked with developing work under a determined workstream.
- The Gambia
- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
- Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
- International Development Law Organization (IDLO)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
- Georgetown University Law Center, O’Neill Institute for National Global Health Law
- Global Health Law Consortium
- Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Global Health Centre
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
- International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP)
- Resolve to Save Lives
For any inquiries or interest in joining the Legal Preparedness Action Package, contact the Executive Secretariat at email@example.com
“Advancing Legal Preparedness through the Global Health Security Agenda,” The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 50 (2022): 200-203. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jme.2022.26