The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental human right. The right to health is provided for in several legal documents including, but not limited to the following:
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- 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.
- The steps to be taken by the States Parties on 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 medical service and medical attention for all in the event of sickness.
Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- 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. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
- States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:
- (a) to diminish infant and child mortality;
- (b) to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;
- (c) to combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;
- (d) to ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;
- (e) to ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;
- (f) to develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.
- States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.
- States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women:
- States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.
- Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph I of this article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:
To have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counselling and services in family planning;
Article 5(e)(iv) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights:
The right to public health, medical care, social security and social services:
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to receive any medical care that is urgently required for the preservation of their life or the avoidance of irreparable harm to their health on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals of the State concerned. Such emergency medical care shall not be refused them by reason of any irregularity with regard to stay or employment.
Migrant workers shall enjoy equality of treatment with nationals of the State of employment in relation to:
Access to social and health services, provided that the requirements for participation in the respective schemes are met:
- Members of the families of migrant workers shall, in the State of employment, enjoy equality of treatment with nationals of that State in relation to:
- (c) Access to social and health services, provided that requirements for participation in the respective schemes are met;
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Article 25
States Parties recognize that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities to health services that are gender-sensitive, including health-related rehabilitation. In particular, States Parties shall:
- (a) Provide persons with disabilities with the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care and programmes as provided to other persons, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programmes;
- (b) Provide those health services needed by persons with disabilities specifically because of their disabilities, including early identification and intervention as appropriate, and services designed to minimize and prevent further disabilities, including among children and older persons;
- (c) Provide these health services as close as possible to people’s own communities, including in rural areas;
- (d) Require health professionals to provide care of the same quality to persons with disabilities as to others, including on the basis of free and informed consent by, inter alia, raising awareness of the human rights, dignity, autonomy and needs of persons with disabilities through training and the promulgation of ethical standards for public and private health care;
- (e) Prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of health insurance, and life insurance where such insurance is permitted by national law, which shall be provided in a fair and reasonable manner;
- (f) Prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.
Fact Sheet No. 31 of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights: The Right to Health underlines the link between health and human rights. Specifically, the Fact Sheet states that:
“• Violations or lack of attention to human rights (e.g. harmful traditional practices, slavery, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, violence against women) can have serious health consequences.
- Health policies and programmes can promote or violate human rights in their design or implementation (e.g. freedom from discrimination, rights to participation, privacy and information).
- Vulnerability to ill health can be reduced by taking steps to respect, protect and fulfil human rights (e.g. freedom from discrimination on account of ethnicity, sex and social status and the rights to food and nutrition, water, education and adequate housing).”
The right to health is an inclusive right. We frequently associate the right to health with access to health care and the building of hospitals. This is correct, but the right to health extends further.
It includes a wide range of factors that can help us lead a healthy life.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasized that there are “underlying determinants of health” which include:
- Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation;
- Safe food;
- Adequate nutrition and housing;
- Healthy working and environmental conditions;
- Health-related education and information;
- Gender equality