Resources Lesson 1: Introduction

Introductory readings:

We can start with a quote from Gable and Meier in their paper in Health and Human Rights: "With human rights offering a powerful policy discourse to advance justice in health, the health and human rights movement has sought to advance human rights under international law as a tool for public health. Construing health disparities as “rights violations” has offered international standards by which to frame government responsibilities and evaluate conduct under law, shifting the analysis from charitable responsibility to legal obligation. Through the development and implementation of international law in recent decades, human rights has been elevated from principle to practice, clarifying norms through legal obligations and facilitating accountability for rights-based policy reforms." This quote highlights the link between Public Health and Human Rights, and calls to move to improve Public Health through legal means to uphold human rights. But, as we will see, the legal pathway is by no means the only way to use right to health principles and standards to reverse the myriad violations of this right the world over – not excluding the rich countries.

You will find an excellent introduction to the issue through the PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation) Basic E-learning Course on Human Rights and Public Health, whose objective is to: Disseminate the links between health and human rights and explain the international human rights instruments that protect the right to health and other related human rights. To access the PAHO course you will have to create an account, and since this is an extensive course, we have prepared a shorter summary of some of the main points as direct quotes from the course.

You will find many very valuable resources in the Health and Human Rights journal which is also open access and freely available "This publication is designed to be a resource on how to apply a human rights-based approach to health issues for advocates and practitioners worldwide." The RSS feed is shown on the side of this page.

You might want to explore the Health and Human Rights Resource Guide from the Harvard University Open Society Foundations, as it contains a number of interesting and relevant downloads. The Introduction to Health and Human Rights provides a comprehensive summary.

Other papers that emphasise the importance of Human Rights to Public Health include:

Poverty, equity and human rights and health, by Braveman and Gruskin in the Bulletin of WHO: " Examination of the concepts of poverty, equity, and human rights in relation to health and to each other demonstrates that they are closely linked conceptually and operationally and that each provides valuable, unique guidance for health institutions' work. Equity and human rights perspectives can contribute concretely to health institutions' efforts to tackle poverty and health, and focusing on poverty is essential to operationalizing those commitments. Both equity and human rights principles dictate the necessity to strive for equal opportunity for health for groups of people who have suffered marginalization or discrimination."

Human Rights and Ethics in Public Health by Gruskin and Dickens in the American Journal of Public Health: "In a world in which hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation are all too evident, it would be unrealistic to demand governmental remedies on the basis of their international human rights commitments alone, but these commitments provide a useful framework for shaping national laws and policies, provide a useful tool for ensuring accountability, and point to approaches useful for promoting public health. There is much that governments should and can do."

Imagining Global Health with Justice: in defence of the right  to health by Friedman and Gostin in Health Care Analysis: "The singular message in Global Health Law is that we must strive to achieve global health with justice—improved population health, with a fairer distribution of benefits of good health. Global health entails ensuring the conditions of good health—public health, universal health coverage, and the social determinants of health—while justice requires closing today’s vast domestic and global health inequities. These conditions for good health should be incorporated into public policy, supplemented by specific actions to overcome barriers to equity."

Some other relevant resources:

25 Questions and Answers on Health and Human Rights, published by WHO, also provides an excellent introduction to the issues of this course.

To better understand how the human rights-base approach is applied, read the following: Human rights-based planning: The new approach (22 key statements) by Claudio Schuftan: "All agencies of the  UN regularly prepare long-term plans of action for approval by their respective boards. To arrive at them, these agencies go through detailed situation analyses that identify the most important causes of the problems each agency deals with..."

A critical view of the role of human rights can be found in the following - also by Claudio Schuftan: The Human Rights Discourse in Health (19 key statements). "Human Rights (HR) --and the Right to Health-- have a particular concern about those who are disadvantaged, marginal and living in poverty...."

You should look at The right to the highest attainable standard of health - General Comment 14 by the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (CESR) which more specifically clarifies what the contents of article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pertaining to health means in practice.

Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2021, 4:31 AM