The right to health was first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization as “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health…. a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The right to health has been enshrined in numerous international and regional human rights treaties as well as national constitutions all over the world.
Key aspects of the right to health
The right to health does not just mean access to health services. It extends to underlying factors which can determine the individual’s state of health, including safe drinking water and adequate sanitation; adequate nutrition and housing; healthy working and environmental conditions; gender equality. It includes the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and from non-consensual medical treatment. The right to health contains entitlements which include the right to a system of health protection and promotion providing services, goods and facilities to all without discrimination.
Making the right to health a reality for all has four main elements:
functioning public health and health care facilities
goods and services, and
programmes in sufficient quantity.
goods and services accessible to everyone within the jurisdiction of the State party;
Ensuring accessibility requires non-discrimination; physical accessibility; economic accessibility (affordability); information accessibility.
– all health facilities, goods and services must be respectful of medical ethics and culturally appropriate as well as sensitive to gender and life-cycle requirements.
– health facilities, goods and services must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality.
The right to health, like all human rights, imposes on States Parties three types of obligations:
Respect: This means simply not to interfere with the enjoyment of the right to health.
Protect: This means ensuring that third parties (non-state actors) do not infringe upon the enjoyment of the right to health.
Fulfill: This means taking positive steps to realize the right to health
Article 12 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:
(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.