Human rights and health: interdependent and essential
A new report by UN experts calls on Governments to stand up for the human rights to health through health by delivering on promises to fund, protect and expand health care provision.
The worldwide erosion and backlash against fundamental human rights threatens the health and well-being of all people, a UN high-level expert group on health and human rights said in a new report. For women, children and adolescents, the denial of human rights and poor health is acute, limiting opportunities and even life expectancy.
“Good health not only depends on but is also the prerequisite for pursuing other rights. Human rights cannot be fully enjoyed without health, likewise, health cannot be fully enjoyed without the dignity that is upheld by all other human rights.”
This conclusion comes from the High Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights’ new report on realizing human rights to health and through health. In the report, published this month, the Group urges governments to recognize and respect the integral relationship between upholding human rights and steadily improving health, particularly among women, children and adolescents.
During an event publicizing the report in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on leaders to be more accountable to upholding their commitments on the issue.
“We can all do more to stand up for human rights to health and through health,” he said. “I sincerely hope that leaders will demonstrate their political will — not only with more promises and commitments — but with concrete action to take the recommendations of this report forward.”
Leadership is essential
Leadership is the fundamental ingredient to move the health and human rights agenda along, said Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and co-chair of the Group.
“By acting decisively to uphold human rights, leaders — especially at national and local levels — we can be the generation of leaders who put an end to preventable and unacceptable suffering, and in so doing, also unlock enormous human potential,” she said at the event.
For women, children and adolescents, the link between discrimination and denial of health-related rights is particularly acute, the report states. For women, gender stereotypes limit their opportunities, and widespread discriminatory practices, such as requiring third party authorization for access to health services, restrict their choices. Adolescents face particular barriers, especially in relation to accessing information and services related to sexual and reproductive health.
Action needed now
Despite long-time recognition of the right to health, as well as knowledge and tools on enacting these rights, action to uphold them has been sorely lacking, said Hina Jilani, a member of the Elders and the Group’s co-chair. Millions of women, children and adolescents are denied their fundamental rights, leading to deaths from preventable diseases, she said.
“Despite medical breakthroughs and scientific advances, societies continue to undervalue the health and dignity of women, children and adolescents, undermining their rights and dismissing their rightful claims,” Jilani said.
Health care professionals are also being called on to recognize their roles as human rights defenders. Translating human rights norms into useful actions relies on local and national leadership said Dr. Denis Mukwege, renowned gynecologist in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Health workers, as human rights defenders, can play an indispensable role in supporting action and holding authorities accountable to ensuring all people are able to enjoy their right to health. They must be protected as they do so,” Mukwege said.
The report calls on Governments to stand up for health by allocating at least 5 percent GDP for public health spending, as well as providing better and more wide spread health care coverage and protection for health workers.
“We know what needs doing, and how to do it,” the report states. “We know why we should do it. We also know that it makes financial sense. What we need is more concrete and sustained political commitment and leadership.”
Learn how to stand up for someone’s rights today through the UN Human Rights Office Stand Up campaign.