BACKGROUND: The governments and citizens of the developed nations are increasingly called upon to contribute financially to health initiatives outside their borders. Although international development assistance for health has grown rapidly over the last two decades, austerity measures related to the 2008 and 2011 global financial crises may impact negatively on aid expenditures. The competition between national priorities and foreign aid commitments raises important ethical questions for donor nations. This paper aims to foster individual reflection and public debate on donor responsibilities for global health. METHODS: We undertook a critical review of contemporary accounts of justice. We selected theories that: (i) articulate important and widely held moral intuitions; (ii) have had extensive impact on debates about global justice; (iii) represent diverse approaches to moral reasoning; and (iv) present distinct stances on the normative importance of national borders. Due to space limitations we limit the discussion to four frameworks. RESULTS: Consequentialist, relational, human rights, and social contract approaches were considered. Responsibilities to provide international assistance were seen as significant by all four theories and place limits on the scope of acceptable national autonomy. Among the range of potential aid foci, interventions for health enjoyed consistent prominence. The four theories concur that there are important ethical responsibilities to support initiatives to improve the health of the worst off worldwide, but offer different rationales for intervention and suggest different implicit limits on responsibilities. CONCLUSIONS: Despite significant theoretical disagreements, four influential accounts of justice offer important reasons to support many current initiatives to promote global health. Ethical argumentation can complement pragmatic reasons to support global health interventions and provide an important foundation to strengthen collective action.
Comment: Designed for researchers, students, and practitioners in global health, this text offers an introduction to four important contemporary accounts of global justice and traces the implications of each position concerning responsibilities for health of people who live outside one’s own country. The text was written to empower each reader to develop her own position on responsibilities for global health. It is useful as a basis for classroom discussion and debate on contemporary challenges such as global health governance, aid, and distribution of scarce resources such as access to Covid-19 diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics.