Health is a fundamental human right
Human Rights Day 2017
Statement by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
10 December 2017
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.
Almost 70 years after these words were adopted in the Constitution of the World Health Organization, they are more powerful and relevant than ever.
Since day one, the right to health has been central to WHO’s identity and mandate. It is at the heart of my top priority: universal health coverage.
The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.
No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.
Good health is also clearly determined by other basic human rights including access to safe drinking water and sanitation, nutritious foods, adequate housing, education and safe working conditions.
The right to health also means that everyone should be entitled to control their own health and body, including having access to sexual and reproductive information and services, free from violence and discrimination.
Everyone has the right to privacy and to be treated with respect and dignity. Nobody should be subjected to medical experimentation, forced medical examination, or given treatment without informed consent.
That’s why WHO promotes the idea of people-centred care; it is the embodiment of human rights in the practice of care.
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.
The central principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ensure that no one is left behind.
I call on all countries to respect and protect human rights in health – in their laws, their health policies and programmes. We must all work together to combat inequalities and discriminatory practices so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, no matter their age, sex, race, religion, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status.
Standing up for the right to health
7. Dezember 2018
More people can access essential health services today than ever before, but at least half of the world’s population still go without.
Those living in the poorest countries, in the most marginalized communities, face the greatest challenges in access, the highest burden of disease, and the worst health outcomes.
This year is an opportunity to stand up for their rights. It is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, and the 70th anniversary of WHO. Both the Declaration and WHO’s Constitution, the organization’s founding document, assert that health is a fundamental right for all people.
These are the ABCs of what it will take to deliver the right to health.
A is for access
The right to health is about ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access affordable, quality healthcare. This is the defining principle of universal health coverage: no one should get sick and die just because they are poor, because of who they are or where they were born, or because they cannot access the health services they need.
B is for breaking down barriers
Achieving universal health coverage requires deliberate and focused efforts to reach those most at risk of being left behind.
Whether social, cultural, structural or financial, a rights-based approach means identifying disadvantage, and breaking down barriers related to access, affordability, the quality, or availability of healthcare services.
This analysis must be facilitated by robust data, broken down by gender, age, education, ethnicity and other factors, which informs efforts to address gaps and direct resources.
C is for civil society
Ensuring the participation of communities in health policies and programmes is a fundamental principle of human rights, but also, good for health outcomes.
It means engaging and empowering people in the decisions that affect their health, designing health systems around the needs of people instead of diseases and health institutions, so that everyone gets the right care, at the right time, in the right place
WHO has recently committed to strengthening its engagement with civil society, including through improve governance mechanisms, policy, and ensuring a greater opportunity for oversight and accountability, and a greater role in data, research and innovation.
D is for determinants of health
Health is about more than health care. It refers also to the underlying determinants that impact our current and future health: factors like the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the houses we live in, or the education we receive.
WHO’s work on social determinants of health.
These factors are shaped by legal and economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, policies and political systems, and require coordinated responses to ensure that people are able to achieve their highest attainable standard of health.
This is why this year’s groundbreaking Declaration of Astana, agreed by all WHO member states, talks not only about the need to provide affordable, quality healthcare, but also about creating the healthy societies and environments that will protect the health of the world’s people
E is for equality and non-discrimination
Inequalities can always impact on health – linked to where someone lives or where they were born, their gender, ethnicity, age, race, sexuality, asylum or migration, health or any other status. Inequality can also be reflected in discrimination and abuse that occurs in healthcare itself, affecting both health workers and service users. This undermines universal health coverage in multiple ways: by jeopardizing investment in health, deterring people from seeking healthcare, and disempowering or depriving people of their dignity. WHO’s work on gender, equity and human rights Tackling discrimination in healthcare requires a holistic and united response. It means working to strengthen service quality, raising awareness on the rights of health workers and service users – with mechanisms for redress – and tackling practices that are harmful to health. Facts in pictures: the right to health As the world commemorates the 70th birthday of WHO and the Universal Declaration, WHO is renewing its commitment to health as a human right.
We cannot achieve health for all unless we place rights firmly at the centre of the agenda. Every health actor, wherever they are in the world, has a role to play in standing up for the fundamental, universal right to health.