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Human rights in health workforce education is crucial, stresses UN expert

29 October 2019

NEW YORK (29 October 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, has called on States to ensure the creation of a balanced workforce of health-care workers, representing a broad cross-section of society, who are ready to work in remote settings and care for the most vulnerable.

"This starts with education," the expert told the UN General Assembly while presenting his report.

"We need to learn lessons from the past, when science and the practice of medicine was exercised without a human rights imperative, resulting in an unbalanced workforce that is failing many, especially those in most vulnerable and marginalized situations," he stressed.

Puras called on States to ensure rights-based policy responses to health education, in the curricula and in health strategies.

"A rights-based medical and health training curricula should provide a balance between different competencies, including human rights, public health, community and social medicine, mental health promotion and care, palliative care, medical ethics, medical law, and managerial and communication skills," said the expert.

He urged schools of medicine and those who train health-care workers to ground health curricula in a right to health framework.

"More attention must be paid to the conditions in which people are born, grow and live, and to good primary health care in the communities where people are," said Puras. "Graduates should be encouraged to work in primary health care and in rural or remote settings."

The UN expert highlighted that candidates that come from situations of vulnerability should be selected for all levels of health education training and that mental health education should be recalibrated to explore alternative service models that are non-coercive and prevent over-medicalisation and institutionalisation.

He explained that conventional medical education has been, and too often remains to be, based on an outdated medical hierarchy, the predominance of a biomedical paradigm and a reliance on tertiary care hospitals.

"Empowering all health-care workers with rights-based competencies and skills not only prevents human rights violations in the care of patients. It also promotes and protects the rights of health-care workers, reduces power asymmetries, prevents corruption and contributes to decent working conditions and a climate of mutual trust and respect within and beyond health-care systems.

"It establishes the transformative foundation for a 21st century health workforce that is fit for purpose—one that the global community is entitled to receive," the expert concluded.


Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health; he took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2014. Dainius Pūras is the Director of Human rights monitoring institute in Vilnius Lithuania, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University and teaches at the faculties of medicine and philosophy of the same university.

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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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