In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, even strong states with considerable capacities, resources and infrastructure have now realized how difficult it is to guarantee the right to health for all its citizens. For low-income and weak states, the spread of COVID-19 intensifies many problems in health care systems and wider societies. In this forum article, we discuss the international duty to cooperate in the realization of social rights, like the right to health, as stipulated by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We argue that multilevel actor partnerships, in which international organizations, national governments and local non-state actors pool their resources, can compensate, at least temporarily, the lack of state capacities and assume state-like functions in realizing the right to health. Local actors assume special responsibilities in these partnerships: They provide health care services to particularly vulnerable groups and can convey information on context-specific problems of rights-holders to the national government and international organizations. Drawing on varying examples, such as the Ebola outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa and the efforts of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, we discuss the potentials of multilevel actor partnerships in realizing the right to health and managing certain norm collisions at the same time. We also address the critical issue of their sustainability, especially after international partners withdraw. Our aim is to raise awareness for the obligation of more capable states to cooperate in order to address the health situation of vulnerable population groups in weak states during the current Covid-19 pandemic.


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Schapper, A. & Jenichen, A. 2021, 'Cooperation in times of COVID-19: realizing the right to health in developing countries', Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, 9(2), pp. 417-427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42597-020-00050-0

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Last updated: 19 May 2023
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