The Right to Health
with reflections from Thailand, South Africa, and the Philippines

» by Clara van Gulik

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.
This is part of the preamble of the Constitution of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is a marker of the link between health and human rights. The 'right to health' is an even stronger collaboration between health and human rights and has found a place in numerous international human rights treaties. Yet the relationship between health and human rights has only recently taken an interdependent approach.
The attempt to intersect the paths of public health and human rights has been challenging as the two have progressed and developed in separate ways. Jonathan Mann explains that although 'health and human rights are both powerful, modern approaches to defining and advancing human well-being' it is attention to their intersection which 'may help reorient thinking about major global health challenges, and may contribute to broadening human rights thinking and practice'.
The international community has demonstrated some progress in bringing health and human rights together, since the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978 , the post of Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health was created and the World Health Organisation has taken more interest in a rights-based approach. Half of the Millennium Development Goals are dedicated to health; including the reduction of child mortality, to improve maternal health, to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and to provide sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. All these goals are aimed to be reached by 2015 to 2020. Some argue that the targets are too high and unrealistic, and in fact developments so far in all areas have not kept up to plan. Yet some critics feel that the targets of these goals are too small and insignificant. The 3-by-5 project run by the WHO aims to ensure that 3 million people with HIV/AIDS receive antiretroviral treatment by 2005. With 40 million people at present with HIV/AIDS and the number increasing on a daily basis, this project may very soon need to be revised.
The crusade to universalise human rights and participation to international human rights treaties have demonstrated its success when at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 171 states took part and some 7000 delegates observed the adoption of the Vienna Declaration to further promote, protect and fulfil all human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Vienna Declaration also states, “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” This re-emphasised the need to urgently focus on the progress of economic, social and cultural rights which have been paid much less attention to, particularly by the Western states, than civil and political rights.
As there is an increasing drive by the international community for a rights-based approach to socio-economic development, the public health community needs to adopt complementary approaches whether it be in the formulation of health policies or in the implementation of health programmes. In the following chapters, right to health provisions will be demonstrated in the sphere of international human rights law and in national legislation. As many authors have often questioned the ‘justiciability’ of a social right such as the right to health, case-law from three developing states will be observed to demonstrate the enforceability of the right to health.

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