Human Rights and Health
What is the Human Right to Health?
Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without discrimination of any kind. Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a person's life and well-being, and is crucial to the realization of many other fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Human Rights at Issue
Human Rights relating to health are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:
The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including reproductive and sexual health.
The human right to equal access to adequate health care and health-related services, regardless of sex, race, or other status.
The human right to equitable distribution of food.
The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The human right to an adequate standard of living and adequate housing.
The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
The human right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to adequate protection for pregnant women in work proven to be harmful to them.
The human right to freedom from discrimination and discriminatory social practices, including female genital mutilation, prenatal gender selection, and female infanticide.
The human right to education and access to information relating to health, including reproductive health and family planning to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly all matters of reproduction and sexuality.
The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Health
What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Health?
Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ... health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and the right to security in the event of ... sickness, disability.... Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance...."
- --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- "The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... safe and healthy working conditions....; ... the right to ... an adequate standard of living ...; the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The steps to be taken ... to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: ... the reduction of ... infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child; the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 7, 11, and 12
- "States Parties shall ... ensure to [women] ... access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in ... health care ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning....; ensure ... appropriate services in connection with pregnancy.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... that [women in rural areas] ... have access to adequate health care facilities, including information counselling and services in family planning...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 10, 12, and 14
- "States Parties undertake to ... eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, ... the right to public health, medical care, social security and social services...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5
- "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health...."
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Health
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Health?
Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "Health and development are intimately interconnected. Both insufficient development leading to poverty and inappropriate development ... can result in severe environmental health problems.... The primary health needs of the world's population ... are integral to the achievement of the goals of sustainable development and primary environmental care.... Major goals ... By the year 2000 ... eliminate guinea worm disease...; eradicate polio;... By 1995 ... reduce measles deaths by 95 per cent...; ensure universal access to safe drinking water and ... sanitary measures of excreta disposal...; By the year 2000 [reduce] the number of deaths from childhood diarrhoea ... by 50 to 70 per cent..."
- -- Agenda 21,Chapter 6, paras. 1 and 12
- "Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States should take all appropriate measures to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, universal access to health-care services, including those related to reproductive health care.... The role of women as primary custodians of family health should be recognized and supported. Access to basic health care, expanded health education, the availability of simple cost-effective remedies ... should be provided...."
- --Cairo Programme of Action, Principle 8 and para. 8.6
- "We commit ourselves to promoting and attaining the goals of universal and equitable access to ... the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the access of all to primary health care, making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social conditions and without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age or disability...."
- --Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 6
- "The explicit recognition ... of the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to their empowerment.... We are determined to ... ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in ... health care and enhance women's sexual and reproductive health as well as Health."
- --Beijing Declaration, paras. 17 and 30
- "Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of this right is vital to their life and well-being and their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life.... Women's health involves their emotional, social and physical well-being and is determined by the social, political and economic context of their lives, as well as by biology.... To attain optimal health, ... equality, including the sharing of family responsibilities, development and peace are necessary conditions."
- --Beijing Platform for Action, para. 89
- "Strategic objective ... Increase women's access throughout the life cycles to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services.... Actions to be taken: ... Reaffirm the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, protect and promote the attainment of this right for women and girls and incorporate it in national legislation...; Provide more accessible, available and affordable primary health care services of high quality, including sexual and reproductive health care...; Strengthen and reorient health services, particularly primary health care, in order to ensure universal access to health services...; reduce maternal mortality by at least 50 per cent of the 1990 levels by the year 2000 and a further one half by the year 2015;... make reproductive health care accessible ... to all ... no later than ... 2015...; take specific measures for closing the gender gaps in morbidity and mortality where girls are disadvantaged, while achieving ... by the year 2000, the reduction of mortality rates of infants and children under five ... by one third of the 1990 level...; by the year 2015 an infant morality rate below 35 per 1,000 live births.... Ensure the availability of and universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation...."
- --Beijing Platform for Action, para. 106
- "Human health and quality of life are at the centre of the effort to develop sustainable human settlements. We ... commit ourselves to ... the goals of universal and equal access to ... the highest attainable standard of physical, mental and environmental health, and the equal access of all to primary health care, making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social and economic conditions ..., without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age, or disability. Good health throughout the life-span of every man and woman, good health for every child ... are fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to ... participate fully in the social, economic and political processes of human settlements .... Sustainable human settlements depend on ... policies ... to provide access to food and nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation, and universal access to the widest range of primary health-care services...; to eradicate major diseases that take a heavy toll of human lives, particularly childhood diseases; to create safe places to work and live; and to protect the environment.... Measures to prevent ill health and disease are as important as the availability of appropriate medical treatment and care. It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to health, whereby both prevention and care are placed within the context of environmental policy...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 36 and 128
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;