The right to health

The Lancet
Dec 15, 2018   Volume 392Number 10164p2515-2654, e16
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/current

Editorial
The right to health
The Lancet
Human Rights Day is recognised annually on Dec 10, and this year is especially important since it is the 70th anniversary of the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration, through its 30 Articles, proclaims the rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Today, Lawrence Gostin and colleagues, including the director-general of WHO, look back at the evolution of human rights in global health over the past 70 years and outline key messages for the future of health as a human right.

Gostin and colleagues describe how human rights became embedded in global health governance, beginning with WHO’s Constitution in 1946, which enshrined “the highest attainable standard of health” as one of the fundamental rights of every human being. But the Cold War superpowers took divergent positions on human rights and although the Declaration of Alma-Ata reaffirmed health as a right in 1978, many governments proved unable to implement appropriate policies. Gostin and colleagues describe how it was not until the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s that momentum grew behind universal access to treatment. Global health law, such as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and security, through the International Health Regulations, helped to embed health-related rights. Now, WHO considers universal health coverage through strengthened primary health care as core to the right to health and to achieving the sustainable development goals.

Recognition of the importance of human rights in protecting health is fundamental and is as crucial today as it was in 1948. As a common standard of achievement for all nations, promoting respect for these rights and freedoms is critical. But with constant rights violations taking place worldwide, and global threats such as climate change, armed conflict, and mass migration, the future of rights-based global health efforts is in the balance.