The UK has launched a new government-wide strategy setting out the way it will work with the World Health Organisation, European Union and other partners to improve health worldwide.

The initiative – entitled Health is Global: a UK government strategy – has been developed following Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson’s 2007 discussion paper, Health is Global, which made the case for developing a global health strategy. It requires that all UK government departments should: - consider the impact of all policy on global health; - promote the health of the UK proactively by tackling health challenges that begin outside Britain’s borders; and - learn from other countries’ policies and experience to improve health and well-being in the UK.

Further, the strategy identifies the following five areas for action: - health security; - strong and fair systems for health; - more effective international health organisations; - freer and fairer trade; and - strengthening the way evidence to improve policy and practice is developed and used.

The initiative will be underpinned by spending of over £12 million during the next five years, which will include: - £4.6 million to support bodies such as the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and the British Medical Association to expand their international activities; - £2 million for bilateral work; - £4.6 million to support key policy areas such as non-communicable diseases and climate change; and - £400,000 to be used to monitor and evaluate independent advice and reviews.

Professor Nigel Lightfoot, chief advisor on the HPA’s global health protection programme, said the Agency was “delighted” with the strategy’s award of £1.9 million funding over the next five years. The HPA's expertise and capability in surveillance of disease, laboratory diagnosis and intervention strategies puts it in a strong position to help other countries improve their capacity-building in respect of public health protection, says the Agency.

Announcing the strategy, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the UK government has already received praise from the WHO for its work on pandemic preparedness, and it now wants to build on that success to work with other countries to address such issues as health inequalities and the health impacts of climate change.

“Problems which affect us on our doorsteps are often made worse by suffering in developing countries," added International Development Minister Gilliam Merron. This is why, she said, the Department for International Development has also committed to spending £6 billion by 2015 to help fight disease and strengthen health support in developing countries, with a further £1 billion investment into the Global Fund to Right AIDS, TB and Malaria. In addition, the government has said it will invest around £400 million in global health research over the next five years.

Commenting on the initiative, UK-based aid agency Merlin said that a government-wide strategy on health is a positive move but pointed to the report’s acknowledgement that this cross-governmental approach “may introduce tensions and conflict between departments.” However, the fact that different government departments will discuss these tensions around a set of principles “is a welcome step forward,” Merlin added.