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COVID-19 measures must be grounded first and foremost on the right to health

10 June 2020


GENEVA (10 June 2020) – The COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on public health systems around the world, and States must ensure the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health are met as they respond to the crisis, a UN expert* said today.

“Physical distancing and other measures being used to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are inadequate if other crucial elements such as adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation, food, social security, and protection from violence are ignored,”  said Dainius Puras, the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

“Binding obligations grounded on the right to health framework oblige States to look at the broader social response in the fight against COVID-19,” Puras said. “Looking at the broader social response will not only make COVID-19 measures fairer, but also more efficient, effective and transparent.”

The right to health framework compels States to examine the adequacy of a range of elements, including ensuring that health goods, services and facilities are of good quality and are accessible on a non-discriminatory basis.

“Another fundamental aspect of the right to health is the participation of all affected communities, which supports equitable responses, facilitates community-led action and targets interventions that respect rights,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Puras said that lockdown measures being imposed by States may also exacerbate public health risks. These include keeping children from school, preventing individuals from purchasing basic necessities, closing off necessary support services, increasing gender-based violence, and widening health inequities across populations.

The expert also expressed concern over the interruption of non-COVID-19 health services during the crisis, including sexual and reproductive health care, anti-retrovirals for people living with HIV, immunization campaigns, and community-based care and support, including mental health care.


*The expert: The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras
Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health took up his functions as on 1 August 2014. Mr. 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. He is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health.
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 enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) and John Newland ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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