Right to Health

Nawa Raj Subba

What is the Right to Health?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without discrimination of any kind. Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a person’s life and well-being and is crucial to the realization of many other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Health is one of the components of an adequate standard of living. Historically, the protection of public health has been accompanied by legal regulation – health law is as old as law itself. Its development demonstrates that the state of an individual’s health is often determined by factors beyond a person’s medical condition.

The right to health includes access to adequate health care (medical, preventative, and mental), nutrition, sanitation, and to clean water and air. It also includes occupational health consequences such as chronic injuries and diseases resulting from unhealthy and hazardous working conditions. This does not mean that an individual has the right to be healthy since no government can assure a specific state of health. The state of health depends on the person’s genetic makeup and is molded by environment and health interventions.

The Human Rights at Issue

  • Human Rights relating to health are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:
  • The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including reproductive and sexual health.
  • The human right to equal access to adequate health care and health-related services, regardless of sex, race, or another status.
  • The human right to equitable distribution of food.
  • The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • The human right to an adequate standard of living and adequate housing.
  • The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
  • The human right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to adequate protection for pregnant women in work proven to be harmful to them.
  • The human right to freedom from discrimination and discriminatory social practices, including female genital mutilation, prenatal gender selection, and female infanticide.
  • The human right to education and access to information relating to health, including reproductive health and family planning to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly all matters of reproduction and sexuality.
  • The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.

What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Health?

Includes excerpts from the:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Governments’ Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Health

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Health?

Includes commitments made at:

  • the Earth Summit in Rio,
  • International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo
  • World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen,
  • Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

What are the minimum requirements?

Availability – public health care facilities must exist in sufficient quantity. At a minimum, this includes safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, hospitals and clinics, trained medical personnel receiving domestically competitive salaries, and essential drugs.

Accessibility – health care must be physically and economically affordable. It must be provided to all on a non-discriminatory basis. Information on how to obtain services must be freely available.

Acceptability – all health facilities must be respectful of medical ethics, and they must be culturally appropriate.

Quality – health facilities, goods, and services must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. At a minimum, this requires skilled medical personnel, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment, safe water, and adequate nutrition (within the facility).

(Paper presented on seminars and workshops)

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