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Development goals: “States must not be tempted by the low-hanging fruit” – UN expert on right to health

NEW YORK (25 October 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, today called on states not to undermine the most marginalised and excluded groups in society by adopting easy-to-achieve goals or narrowly defining their health-related commitments in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 

“States should refrain from a selective approach to the right to health and related human rights when developing strategies towards the implementation of the SDGs, and should ensure full compliance with human rights law and principles,” Mr. Pūras said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN General Assembly. 

“Inequities, inequalities and discrimination are major threats and obstacles to global development, peace, and security worldwide,” the expert said “The SDGs reflect an unprecedented political commitment and offer unique opportunities to effectively address those threats and obstacles.”

The Special Rapporteur stressed that, the right to health is central to the SDGs, as it is both an outcome and a path to achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development. “However,” he explained, “health-related targets and indicators are too narrowly focused on biomedical aspects, despite the requirement to ensure that health promotion and primary care are grounded in human rights and modern public health principles.”

“In addition, Agenda 2030 suffers from weak accountability requirements, unclear guidance on how to implement the SDGs at the national level, and fails to make commitments or offer guidance on how to transform the global financial system to support such a broad and ambitious global strategy,” the UN expert noted.

In his report, Mr. Pūras elaborates on emerging priority issues that are crucial to ensure a successful implementation of Agenda 2030 and the full realisation of the right to health. These issues are: equality and non-discrimination; accountability; universal health coverage, including access to quality mental health care; and violence.  

“Human rights defenders working on health-related rights face important risks and restrictions in many countries, in particular those working on women’s rights; sexual and reproductive health rights, or those defending the right to be free from discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur urged governments to use the momentum that the 2030 Agenda provides to make sure that none if left behind. In that regard, he makes a number of recommendations in his report, among them: 

·    identify disparities and prioritize the most vulnerable through collection and disaggregation of high quality and timely health-related data, using both qualitative and quantitative methods;
·    monitor progress and support review and accountability in the implementation of the SDGs; 
·    empower all stakeholders to participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of laws, policies and practices relevant to implementing the SDGs and realizing the right to health;
·    ensure that health-care systems are effective, transparent and accountable, with a focus on primary health care and health promotion, and are ready to address imbalances and power asymmetries within and beyond health-care systems in all decisions aimed at reaching universal health coverage;
·    make sure that the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development meets often, is well resourced, and that States report on regularly after conducting participatory reviews at the national level.  The political forum should consider the relevant standards set by international human rights mechanisms.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/71/304

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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