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End racism to advance health and other human rights says UN expert

20 October 2022

NEW YORK (20 October 2022) – Eliminating racism and disparities in health status resulting from racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance is central to global efforts to advance the right to health and other human rights, a UN expert told the General Assembly today.

“The health consequences of racism and discrimination are persistent and passed from one generation to the next through the body’s “biological memory” of harmful experiences,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

“The right to health cannot be realised in a racist world,” Mofokeng said, presenting her report to the General Assembly.

She explained the impact of racism on human dignity, life, non-discrimination, equality, the right to control one’s health and body, and on the entitlement to healthcare protection.
The legacy of past and ongoing racism, apartheid, slavery, coloniality and oppressive structures, including global architecture, funding mechanisms and national health systems on racialised people have a global health impact, the UN expert said.

“Racism is linked to poverty and is present in multiple localities and leads to exceedingly high rates of police brutality, poor access to justice, mass incarceration, and a lack of access to housing, education employment and healthy food,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Racism also leads to increased rates of mortality and morbidity.”

Mofokeng shed light on the impact of racism and discrimination, particularly on Black people, persons of African descent, migrants, indigenous peoples and minorities. She also pointed to the intersections of factors at play, including poverty, and discrimination based on age, sex, gender identity, expression, sexual orientation, disability, migration status, health status and location in rural or urban communities.

The UN expert urged all stakeholders to close the gaps in data collection. “Today the full impact of racism on the right to health cannot be fully understood because several health outcomes affected by racism remain difficult to measure due to widespread and concerning gaps in data collection,” she said.

Mofokeng expressed concern that even in the most comprehensive global data related to maternal mortality and morbidity, many vulnerable populations were not represented and remained invisible.

“Formerly colonised countries still carry the legacy of the European colonial regimes through their present-day restrictive laws such as abortion and laws criminalising sex work,” the expert said.

“Ending racism has become a central component of the global effort to advance health and other human rights. We must engage meaningfully with those most affected, towards transformative and lasting change for racial justice and substantive equality and to realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the universal level,” she said.


The expert: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, (South Africa), has been the Special Rapporteur on the right to health since August 2020. She is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth friendly services and family planning. Tlaleng Mofokeng is a member of the boards of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, Accountability International. She is also the Chair of the Soul City Institute board. Her areas of focus have been on gender equality, policy, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, and HIV management. Tlaleng Mofokeng has been Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa and advisor to the Technical Committee for the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy in South Africa.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts 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 of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: 

Ms. Karin Hechenleitner Schacht (+41 22 917 84 58 / [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:

Renato Rosario De Souza
([email protected]) or

Dharisha Indraguptha
([email protected]).

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

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