Discrimination in health care

December 10, 2017


Today, December 10th, is International Human Rights Day. On this day, the World Health Organization raises awareness to the issue of discrimination in healthcare settings as an important threat to the right to health:  “The right to health means ending discrimination in all healthcare settings.”

Image may contain: text

Discrimination in health care takes many forms. Examples are:

  • the denial of health care and unjust barriers to service provision
  • inferior quality of care
  • a lack of respect
  • violation of physical autonomy
  • mandatory testing or treatment
  • compulsory detention for treatment

In general, the most marginalized and most affected people, including people living with HIV, experience the most severe forms of stigma and discrimination in health facilities. On the other hand, discrimination in the workplace and lack of empowering and protective workplaces also hamper health professionals’ efforts to provide rights-based quality care.


In a statement on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO wrote: 

“When people are marginalized or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. Discrimination in health care is unacceptable and is a major barrier to development.

But when people are given the opportunity to be active participants in their own care, instead of passive recipients, their human rights respected, the outcomes are better and health systems become more efficient.

We have a long way to go until everyone – no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have – has access to these basic human rights.”


Last year, the WHO Global Health Workforce Alliance and UNAIDS launched the Agenda for Zero Discrimination in Health Care. This initiative brings together all stakeholders for joint efforts towards tackling discrimination in health care in its many forms: by removing punitive laws, policies and practices that undermine people living with HIV, key populations and other vulnerable groups, or block their access to good quality health-care services, and by empowering them to exercise their rights.

Download Agenda for Zero Discrimination in Health Care. WHO Global Health Workforce Alliance & UNAIDS, 2016