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Toolkit on the Right to Health

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, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information… ” - Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Key aspects of the right to health

  • Availability: functioning public health and health-care facilities, goods and services must be available in sufficient quantity within a State.

  • Accessibility: the facilities, goods and services must be accessible physically (in safe reach for all sections of the population, including children, adolescents, older persons, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups) as well as financially and on the basis of non-discrimination. Accessibility also implies the right to seek, receive and impart health-related information in an accessible format (for all, including persons with disabilities), but does not impair the right to have personal health data treated confidentially.

  • Acceptability: the facilities, goods and services should also respect medical ethics, and be gender-sensitive and culturally appropriate. In other words, they should be medically and culturally acceptable.

  • Good quality: they must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. This requires, in particular, trained health professionals, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment, adequate sanitation and safe drinking water.

  • Non-discrimination: health services, facilities and goods must be accessible to all without discrimination on any grounds.

  • Participation: The beneficiaries of health care services, facilities and goods should have a voice in the design and implementation of health policies which affect them.

  • Accountability: Duty bearers should be held accountable for meeting human rights obligations in the area of public health, including through the possibility of seeking effective remedies for breaches such as, for example, the denial of treatment.

  • Underlying determinants: The right to health encompasses not only health care but also the underlying determinants of health such as adequate sanitation and safe drinking water and adequate housing

Cover Fact sheet 31 The Right to Health

For more information see CESCR’s General Comment No. 14 (2000) and Fact Sheet No. 31
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Publications, reports and tools

Publications:


Reports:

OHCHR report on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” (A/HRC/22/31) April 2013

OHCHR report on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights (A/HRC/14/39) April 2010


Tools:

Universal Human Rights Index: www.universalhumanrightsindex.org


Recent UN resolutions relevant to the right to health:

Human Rights Council resolution on the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health, March 2013 (A/HRC/22/L.27)

General Assembly resolution on global health and foreign policy, December 2012 (A/67/L.36)

Human Rights Council resolution on the rights of the child, April 2012 (A/HRC/RES/19/37)
 

Normative framework

The right to health is recognized by the international treaties listed below, as well as in other declarations and statements, both international and regional, of a non-binding nature:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

More resources are available here.

Mechanisms relevant to the right to health

Special rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health

Report to the General Assembly (main focus: health financing in the context of the right to health), 2012 (A/67/302)
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Report to the Human Rights Council (main focus: occupational health), 2012 (A/HRC/20/15)
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Report to the General Assembly (main focus: criminalisation of sexual and reproductive health), 2011 (A/66/254)
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Report to the Human Rights Council (main focus: right to health of older persons), 2011, (A/HRC/18/37)
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Report to the Human Rights Council (main focus: report on expert consultation on access to medicines), 2011, (A/HRC/17/43)
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Other relevant mandates

  • Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  • Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
  • Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
  • Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

Treaty bodies

Human Rights Council

Issues and groups

The right to health intersects with many issues, including HIV/AIDS, disability and migration, and special attention has been paid to the right to health of women, children, and older persons due to their particular vulnerability.

Children  


© UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


- UN Study on violence against children 2006 (A/61/299)
Women  


© Afghan Midwives Association/Pashtoon Azfar


- OHCHR report on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights (A/HRC/14/39) April 2010
Older persons  


© WHO/Olli Häkämies


- Human Rights Council panel discussion on the right to health of older persons 2011
Migration  


© IOM 2011/Ray Leyesa


- Resources on migration and health available through the Global Migration Group*
- Global consultation on Migrant Health 2010

* OHCHR is not responsible for the content of external websites and the provision of links on this page does not imply that OHCHR associates itself with such content.