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Right to Health: “A long way to go in Guatemala” – UN expert

GUATEMALA CITY (18 May 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on right to health, Anand Grover, called Tuesday for greater political commitment and will in realising the right to health for all in Guatemala*. At the end of his first mission to the country, Mr. Grover stressed that “while some progress is being made, there remains a long way to go.”

“A comprehensive national health plan is required as a matter of urgency to fulfil the international obligations of the Government,” said the independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The UN independent expert noted that Guatemala’s health indicators are amongst the lowest in the region. “Given that the indicators are so dire,” he said, “ this situation also requires long-term structural changes to be implemented in a targeted and coherent manner, concerning food security, education, social security, employment, and land reform – all of which are relevant to health.”

“All of these changes are feasible, given that some progress has already been made,” Mr. Grover stressed, noting a number of initiatives launched by the Guatemalan authorities. He also commended the Government’s recognition of its shortcomings on the key issues of indigenous people and women’s health -including sexual and reproductive issues-, and access to medicines.

Regarding indigenous people’s health, the UN Special Rapporteur urged the authorities to implement short-term measures to allow for better communication with the communities and better representation. He also recommended long-term strategies in the fields of education, food security and nutrition, land reform and outreach services, in order to ensure access to health services for indigenous peoples.

During his 7-day mission to Guatemala, Mr. Grover also monitored women’s health issues, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. “The incidence of violent crime directed against women is increasing annually, unlike maternal mortality,” he said. “These numbers suggest the existence of deep-seated gender inequities and hatred that clearly affect the rights to health and life of women in Guatemala.”

The independent expert called on the Government to increase investment in primary health care, since “violence against women does not just include physical violence, but also structural violence, resulting in preventable deaths during pregnancy, a problem that disproportionately impacts indigenous communities.”

The Human Rights Council envoy met with the Vice-President, Ministers of Finance and Health, members of the Constitutional Court, the Ombudsman, the First Vice-President and elected representatives of the Congress, the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, public officials from the national and local levels, health professionals, and civil society organisations.

After the visit, the Special Rapporteur will submit a report on his mission to the Human Rights Council, in June 2011.

Anand Grover was appointed the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health in 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The United Nations first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to health in 2002. Mr. Grover is currently the Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS in India.

(*) See the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/health/right/docs/GuatemalaPressSatement18052010.doc