Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Right to Health)
The right to health, a human right enshrined in international Human Rights Law
The right to health was first articulated in the WHO Constitution (1946) which states that : "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being...". The preamble of the Constitution defines health as : ‘.. a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity ».
The 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights mentioned health as part of the right to an adequate standard of living (article 25). It was again recognised as a human right in 1966 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 12:
“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.”
The right to health is relevant to all States: every State has ratified at least one international human rights treaty that recognises the right to health.
In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the right to health, providing a broad interpretation of this human right: “The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.” For more information on the definition of the right to health, please refer to General Comment No. 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
WMA Current Policy & Action:
- WaterAid Letter to the UN - WaterAid UK/International World Toilet Day Press Release on 19 November 2014
- Statement on Water and Health, October 2004 and revised in October 2014
- Statement on Access to Health Care, October 2006
- Resolution on the Inclusion of Medical Ethics and Human Rights in the Curriculum of Medical Schools World-wide October 1999
Special Rapporteur on the Right to health
In 2002, the Human Rights Council created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The Council appointed Dr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) as Special Rapporteur on the right health at its twenty-sixth session in June 2014. Mr Pūras, a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health, took up his functions as Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2014. The former rapporteur was Mr. Grover (India).
There are other UN Special Rapporteurs who have a direct or indirect link with health.
WMA Current Policy & Actions:
- Joint press release with the UN Special Rappoprteur on the Right to Health Turkey: international experts warn against criminalizing independent medical care in emergencies, December 2013
- In 2008, the World Medical Association and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) submitted a joint statement to the Human Rights Council with a view to embedding the autonomy and freedom from reprisal of health professionals within the existing mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and to including surveillance and action on human rights violations related to health professionals.
- Proposal for a United Nations Rapporteur on the Independence and Integrity of Health Professionals (1997)