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

Accessibility: health 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.

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

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.

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: health facilities, goods and services must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good qualityThis requires, among other things, trained health professionals, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment, adequate sanitation and safe drinking water.

For more information see:

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:

More resources on international standards.

Reports, resolutions and other resources


Publications and Tools

Mechanisms relevant to the right to health

Treaty Bodies

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of 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.
Latest reports by the Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health:

See the Special Rapporteur's page for in-depth information about the mandate, all reports issued, and reports on country visits.

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 trafficking in persons, especially women and children

Social Forum

The Social Forum is an annual three-day meeting convened by the Human Rights Council that brings together stakeholders from civil society, representatives of Member States, and intergovernmental organizations. Each year, the Council determines the theme.
Sessions relevant to the right to health were:

Through its resolution 32/27 the Human Rights Council decided that the 2017 Meeting of the Social Forum should focus on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of the HIV epidemic and other communicable diseases. The next Social Forum will take place from 2-4 October 2017.

Issues and groups

The right to physical and mental health is closely related to and dependent upon the realization of other human rights and intersects with many issues, including HIV/AIDSdisability and climate change.

Special attention has been paid to the right to health of women, children and migrants, among other groups.

Women, children and adolescents

In recent reports, resolutions of the Council, the focus has been on sexual and reproductive health, mental health and access to medicines.

Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030)

© Afghan Midwives Association/Pashtoon AzfarLaunched by the Secretary General in September 2015, the Global Strategy is an implementing platform for the Sustainable Development Goals focused on the health of women, children and adolescents. Its predecessor, the 2010-2015 Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, aimed to support the achievement of MDGs 4 (reduce child mortality), 5 (improve maternal health) and 6 (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases) by 2015. The renewed Global Strategy builds on new evidence, including the need to focus on critical population groups such as new-borns and adolescents, to build the resilience of health systems and to improve the quality of health services.

High Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents

The High Level Working Group was established by joint initiative of the WHO Director General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Its objectives include securing political support, at both national and international levels, for the implementation of the human rights-related actions of the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.

The report of the High Level Working Group was presented to the World Health Assembly on 22 May 2017 and will be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 35th session.

For more information, please visit:

Download the report: Leading the Realization of Human Rights to Health and through Health


© UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

UN Study on Violence against Children and Report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children, 2006 (A/61/299)

OHCHR Study on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Children Working and/ or Living on the Street

Prevention of and responses to violence against children in the juvenile justice system, and Joint Report of OHCHR, UNODC and the SRGS, 2012 (A/HRC/21/25) 

UN Study on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and related report, 2012 (A/HRC/22/31)


© IOM 2011/Ray Leyesa

IOM/ WHO/ OHCHR, International Migration, Health and Human Rights (2013) English | French | Spanish

OHCHR, The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Migrants in an Irregular Situation (2015) English

KNOWMAD, Human Rights Indicators for Migrants and their Families (2015) English | French | Spanish