The goal of the right to health at the international level

The right to health is a fundamental human right, which is not only linked to but also depends on many other human rights. Many international human rights regimes have not only expounded on the definition and concept of the right to health but also further stipulated the specific goals and steps to realise it. The goals of the right to health at the international level are illustrated in the following aspects.

First, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights points out the relationship between health and other human rights, such as the right to food, housing, medical care and social services. The Declaration takes a broad view on the right to health, suggesting that the realisation of the right to health is closely related to the efficiency of governments in fillfilling their public service functions. For example. Article 25(1) stipulates that:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other-lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond Iris control.34

Second, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights explicitly recognises the right to health as a right to be enjoyed by people and proposes specific steps in different aspects that a government can take to realise it. For example. Article 12 stipulates:

  • 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 childr en;
    • (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.

Third, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women requires states parties to guarantee the right to health on a basis of equality of men and women. It includes, in particular, provisions on proper prenatal care and breastfeeding care. For example. Article 12 stipulates:

  • 1 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.
  • 2 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.

Fourth, the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the right to health that all children should enjoy. For example. Article 23 stipulates:

  • 1 States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.
  • 2 States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for Iris or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.
  • 3 Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development.
  • 4 States Parties shall promote, in the spirit of international cooperation, the exchange of appropriate information in the field of preventive health care and of medical, psychological and functional treatment of disabled children, including dissemination of and access to information concerning methods of rehabilitation, education and vocational services, with the aim of enabling States Parties to improve their capabilities and skills and to widen their experience in these areas. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

hr addition, the Convention on the Rights of the Child also proposes steps to implement the protection of children’s right to health. For example, Article 24 stipulates:

1 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.

  • 2 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.
  • 3 States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.
  • 4 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.

The right to health is also reflected in other international human rights covenants, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Then Families, Geneva Conventions, the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. Each includes provisions which have directly and indirectly addr essed different aspects of the right to health. In addition, there also exists a large number of instruments on human rights at the regional and national levels, such as the European Social Charter, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For example, Article 11 of the European Social Charter touches on the right to protection of health, which stipulates that states parties shall take appropriate measures to “provide advisory and educational facilities for the promotion of health”, prevent diseases and so forth. Article 13 also requires governments to provide adequate social or medical assistance to any citizen who is without adequate resources, which to some extent underlines the relationship between the right to health and the right to equality. Nevertheless, the right to health in international human rights regimes still needs to be implemented at the national level. The right to health, as one of the fundamental human rights, has been incorporated into the constitutions or laws of most member countries (see Figure 5.3).

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