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Health as a Human Right

We use the discourse of rights to give voice to our claims and to mobilise around our claims. Speaking about health as a human right is a way of replacing prevailing constructions of health:

  • health as a factor of production (ie health should be improved because (and if) it contributes to economic development) and
  • health as an issue of rich world security (ie increase donor funding to the poor world in order to maintain the stability of an existing unfair system).

There are some binding legal instruments at the national and international levels which can be used to prevent breaches of human rights (including the right to health) and to seek redress when breaches do occur. However, rights are not secured just because they are a good thing. Popular mobilisation is critical in getting the legal agreements in place as well as ensuring that they are enforced.
The Doha Declaration on trade and public health provides us with some rhetorical leverage in relation to access to HIV/AIDS drugs. It may also have some legal force but only if the popular movement is there to force big pharma and the US to conform to the principles of the statement.
This topic explores the concepts of claim holders, duty bearers, their reciprocal relationships (called pattern analysis) and capacity analysis (also called accountability analysis) in the human rights discourse.
Learning objectives
Participants will:

  • be more familiar with existing international covenants that give legal force to the right to health;
  • understand more deeply the basic principles of the human rights approach to the struggle for health;
  • be more familiiar with case studies where the rights approach has been used successfully
  • be more confident in analysing health issues in terms of the rights framework and in developing strategies for ensuring the realisation of the right to health;
  • be more familiar with the PHM RTH campaign and the objectives, strategies and timelines associated with country by country participation in the campaign.

The Right to Healthcare Campaign (Laura Turiano at Savar, Nov 2007)
The Right to Health (Renu Khanna (Bangalore, Sept 2009)  
Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
UN High Commission for Human Rights;
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health;
The right to the highest attainable standard of health. Comment 14 (2000)
WHO on Health and Human Rights
Indian Right to Health
PHM South Africa RTH Campaign
Backman, G., P. Hunt, et al. (2008). "Health systems and the right to health: an assessment of 194 countries." The Lancet 372(9655): 2047-2085 (Open Access)
North South Institute (2007) the Global Right to Health
The denial of the right to health and to health care of Australian Indigenous peoples provides a clear case study. See the 2005 report of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
Essays on Food, Hunger and Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development
Capacity Analysis: Complementing situation analyses to foster accountability
The HR discourse in health
Methods for applying a HRBAP
What is the Rights Based Approach all about? Perspectives from International Development Agencies by Celestine Nyamu-Musembi and Andrea Cornwall - 2004. IDS Working Paper # 234
Gruskin, S., et al, Perspectives on health and HR, Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2004, ISBN: 0 41594807 X.
Discussion questions
What is the difference between the basic needs approach and the human rights-based approach to health?
How does the human rights-based approach politicize the health development agenda?
Assignment topics
Topic developed by Claudio Schuftan and Laura Turiano