Steven J. Hoffman, Clarke B. Cole, Mark Pearcey

This paper finds that some functions in the global health system are performed by a greater concentration of actors than others, which may not be the best configuration to match the future challenges that the global health system will face.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

As the world faces new globalized health threats and transitions from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a need to understand better how well prepared the global health system is for what it will encounter. This paper sheds light on this issue in three ways. First, the paper develops an operational definition of the global health system that includes any actors working transnationally with a primary intent to improve health. Second, it uses this definition to conduct a network mapping exercise of the global health system, identifying 203 global health actors that operate within it. Third, 20 key global health actors were selected through an expert survey and were then categorized according to the functions they perform. This revealed that some functions are performed by a greater concentration of actors than others, which may not be the best configuration to match the future challenges that the global health system will face.

Key messages

  • The global health system can helpfully be conceptualized as a network of those transnational actors that work with a primary intent to improve health.
  • There are at least 203 global health actors, the majority of which are NGOs (n = 138), are headquartered in the United States (n = 135) and work to improve health as their sole primary purpose (n = 125).
  • Many global health actors support knowledge generation and technical cooperation activities, and very few support sharing of intellectual property, guideline development and surveillance activities.