Right to Health

Meaning of Health as a Human Right

Health is a human right. This means that it is:

  1. Fundamental – to human survival, dignity and development
  2. Universal – it applies to everyone everywhere
  3. Inalienable – it cannot be taken away from a person
  4. Indivisible – it is closely connected to other human rights

The right to health is recognized in a wide range of documents at different levels. The most complete source is Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Relevant texts from these and other sources can be found here.

General Comment No. 14

In May 2000, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published General Comment No. 14 , which provides more explicit, operational language on the freedoms and entitlements included in Article 12. It provides a detailed description of the obligations of States to secure the right to health, as well as criteria for monitoring this right. General Comment  14 emphasizes that the right to health must be understood as the right to the enjoyment of a range of facilities, goods, services, and conditions necessary for the realisation of the highest attainable standard of health.

The right to health is not a right to be healthy, as good health is influenced by a number of factors that a government has no control over, such as genetics or risky lifestyles. The right to health is therefore a right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

It can be helpful to view the right to health as having two basic components:

  1. Health care
  2. Underlying determinants of health

The right to health includes both freedoms and entitlements.

Essential standards

General Comment 14 mentions four essential standards that the right to health imposes on health services, goods and facilities. These are the underlying criteria that a government must make progress on in order to realize the right to health. All health-related facilities, goods and services must be:

  • Available
  • Accessible
  • Acceptable
  • Appropriate
  • and of good Quality

Together they are often referred to as ‘Triple A Q’ or the AAAQ Framework.

Rights-Based Approach to Health

A rights-based approach to health means integrating human rights norms and principles in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of health-related policies and programmes.

The main effect of a human rights approach to health is that it reframes basic health needs as health rights. In other words, becoming healthy and remaining so is regarded not merely as a medical, technical or economic problem, but as a question of social justice and concrete government obligations. Furthermore, a human rights approach recognizes that every human being is endowed with human rights.

(From: The Right to Health, A Resource Manual for NGOs by Judith Asher)

The main elements of a rights-based approach are:

  • Attention to needs and rights of vulnerable groups
  • Freedom of discrimination
  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Progressive realization
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Resources

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The Right to Health: a Multi-Country Study of Law, Policy and Practice (2014) - Brigit Toebes, Rhonda Ferguson, Milan Markovic and Obiajulu Nnamuchi
TCM Asser Press & Springer

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The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide. A Global Comparative Study (2014 ) - Colleen Flood & Aeyal Gross (Eds.)
Cambridge University Press

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A primer on economic, social and cultural rights (2014)
Amnesty International

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Advancing the Human Right to Health (2013) - Jose Zuniga, Stephen Marks & Lawrence Gostin

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General comment No. 15 on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (2013)
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

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Access to Medicines as a Human Right: Implications for Pharmaceutical Industry Responsibility (2012) - Lisa Forman & Jillian Clare Kohler
University of Toronto Press

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The Human Right to Health (2012) - Jonathan Wolff
Amnesty International

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The Human Right to Equal Access to Health Care (thesis) (2012) - Maite San Giorgi
intersentia

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Health and Human Rights in Europe (2012) - Brigit Toebes, Mette Hartlev, Aart Hendriks & Janne Rothmar Herrmann (Eds)
intersentia

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Steps for Change – A Human Rights Action Guide for Health Workers (2012) - Alicia Dibbets & Rosalinda Terhorst
IFHHRO

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Steps for Change – A Human Rights Action Guide for Health Workers – Templates (2012) - Rosalinda Terhorst & Alicia Dibbets
IFHHRO

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The Right to Health in International Law (2012) - John Tobin
Oxford University Press

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Litigating Health Rights. Can Courts Bring More Justice to Health? (2011) - Alicia Ely Yamin & Siri Gloppen (Eds)
Harvard University Press

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Toolkit on the Right to Health (2011) - Nicole Fick, Leslie London & Fons Coomans
Learning Network for Health and Human Rights, South Africa

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Addressing Corruption in the Health Sector: Securing equitable access to health care for everyone (2011) - Karen Hussmann
CHR Michelsen Institute

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Factsheet Our right to the highest attainable standard of health (2007)
Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex & IFHHRO

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Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (2003) - Paul Farmer
California Series in Public Anthropology, University of California Press

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