The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a fact sheet on the occasion of World Human Rights Day that describes how intimately human rights and health are related.
The WHO Constitution enshrines “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.”
The right to health is closely related to that of other human rights, including the
- right to food,
- right to housing,
- right to work,
- right to education,
- right to non-discrimination,
- right to access to information, and
- right to participation.
The right to health includes both freedoms and entitlements:
- Freedoms include the right to control one’s health and body (e.g. sexual and reproductive rights) and to be free from interference (e.g. free from torture and from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation).
- Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.
Health policies and programmes have the ability to either promote or violate human rights, including the right to health, depending on the way they are designed or implemented.
Within countries – some populations – such as indigenous communities are exposed to greater rates of ill-health and face significant obstacles to accessing quality and affordable healthcare. This population has substantially higher mortality and morbidity rates, due to noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, than the general public.
Overt or implicit discrimination in the delivery of health services violates fundamental human rights:
- Many people with mental disorders are kept in mental institutions against their will, despite having the capacity to make decisions regarding their future.
- Similarly, women are frequently denied access to sexual and reproductive health care and services in developing and developed countries. This is a human rights violation that is deeply ingrained in societal values about women’s sexuality.
- In addition to denial of care, women in certain societies are sometimes forced into procedures such as sterilization, abortions or virginity examinations.
The goal of a human rights-based approach is that all health policies, strategies and programmes are designed with the objective of progressively improving the enjoyment of all people to the right to health.
Interventions to reach this objective adhere to rigorous principles and standards, including:
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that all people receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. The full spectrum of essential, quality health services should be covered including health promotion, prevention and treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
UHC is critical to addressing the requirements of health as a human rights issue.
Link to the fact sheet on Health and Human Rights:
Link to Frequently Asked Questions on the Human Rights Based Approaches to Programming portal (click on each question to see response):
Link to UN document ‘Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation’:
Link to WHO fact sheet on Universal Health Coverage (December 2015):
Link to WHO infographic on Universal Health Coverage:
Link to WHO page on Universal Health Coverage: