Human Rights and Health
What is the Human Right to Health?
Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to the highest
attainable standard of physical and mental health, without discrimination
of any kind. Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all
aspects of a person's life and well-being, and is crucial to the
realization of many other fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Human Rights at Issue
Human Rights relating to health are set out in basic human rights
treaties and include:
The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and
mental health, including reproductive and sexual health.
The human right to equal access to adequate health care and
health-related services, regardless of sex, race, or other status.
The human right to equitable distribution of food.
The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The human right to an adequate standard of living and adequate housing.
The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
The human right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to adequate
protection for pregnant women in work proven to be harmful to them.
The human right to freedom from discrimination and discriminatory
social practices, including female genital mutilation, prenatal gender
selection, and female infanticide.
The human right to education and access to information relating to
health, including reproductive health and family planning to enable
couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly all matters of
reproduction and sexuality.
The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical
and mental development.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right
What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right
Includes excerpts from the
- "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ...
health and well-being of himself and his family, including food,
clothing, housing, medical care and the right to security in the event
of ... sickness, disability.... Motherhood and childhood are entitled to
special care and assistance...."
Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- "The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just
and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... safe and healthy
working conditions....; ... the right to ... an adequate standard of
living ...; the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical
and mental health. The steps to be taken ... to achieve the full
realization of this right shall include those necessary for: ... the
reduction of ... infant mortality and for the healthy development of the
child; the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial
hygiene; the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic,
occupational and other diseases; the creation of conditions which would
assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 7, 11,
- "States Parties shall ... ensure to [women] ... access to specific
educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of
families, including information and advice on family planning.... States
Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in ... health
care ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to
health care services, including those related to family planning....;
ensure ... appropriate services in connection with pregnancy.... States
Parties shall ... ensure ... that [women in rural areas] ... have access
to adequate health care facilities, including information counselling
and services in family planning...."
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,
Articles 10, 12, and 14
- "States Parties undertake to ... eliminate racial discrimination ...
and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race,
colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, ...
the right to public health, medical care, social security and social
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5
- "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the
treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health...."
on the Rights of the Child, Article 24
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of
the Human Right to Health?
Includes commitments made at:
- "Health and development are intimately interconnected. Both
insufficient development leading to poverty and inappropriate
development ... can result in severe environmental health problems....
The primary health needs of the world's population ... are integral to
the achievement of the goals of sustainable development and primary
environmental care.... Major goals ... By the year 2000 ... eliminate
guinea worm disease...; eradicate polio;... By 1995 ... reduce measles
deaths by 95 per cent...; ensure universal access to safe drinking water
and ... sanitary measures of excreta disposal...; By the year 2000
[reduce] the number of deaths from childhood diarrhoea ... by 50 to 70
- -- Agenda 21,Chapter
6, paras. 1 and 12
- "Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health. States should take all
appropriate measures to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women,
universal access to health-care services, including those related to
reproductive health care.... The role of women as primary custodians of
family health should be recognized and supported. Access to basic health
care, expanded health education, the availability of simple
cost-effective remedies ... should be provided...."
Programme of Action, Principle 8 and para. 8.6
- "We commit ourselves to promoting and attaining the goals of
universal and equitable access to ... the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health, and the access of all to primary health
care, making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to
social conditions and without distinction as to race, national origin,
gender, age or disability...."
Declaration, Commitment 6
- "The explicit recognition ... of the right of all women to control
all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic
to their empowerment.... We are determined to ... ensure equal access to
and equal treatment of women and men in ... health care and enhance
women's sexual and reproductive health as well as Health."
Declaration, paras. 17 and 30
- "Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of this right is
vital to their life and well-being and their ability to participate in
all areas of public and private life.... Women's health involves their
emotional, social and physical well-being and is determined by the
social, political and economic context of their lives, as well as by
biology.... To attain optimal health, ... equality, including the
sharing of family responsibilities, development and peace are necessary
Platform for Action, para. 89
- "Strategic objective ... Increase women's access throughout the life
cycles to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information
and related services.... Actions to be taken: ... Reaffirm the right to
the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of physical and mental
health, protect and promote the attainment of this right for women and
girls and incorporate it in national legislation...; Provide more
accessible, available and affordable primary health care services of
high quality, including sexual and reproductive health care...;
Strengthen and reorient health services, particularly primary health
care, in order to ensure universal access to health services...; reduce
maternal mortality by at least 50 per cent of the 1990 levels by the
year 2000 and a further one half by the year 2015;... make reproductive
health care accessible ... to all ... no later than ... 2015...; take
specific measures for closing the gender gaps in morbidity and mortality
where girls are disadvantaged, while achieving ... by the year 2000, the
reduction of mortality rates of infants and children under five ... by
one third of the 1990 level...; by the year 2015 an infant morality rate
below 35 per 1,000 live births.... Ensure the availability of and
universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation...."
Platform for Action, para. 106
- "Human health and quality of life are at the centre of the effort to
develop sustainable human settlements. We ... commit ourselves to ...
the goals of universal and equal access to ... the highest attainable
standard of physical, mental and environmental health, and the equal
access of all to primary health care, making particular efforts to
rectify inequalities relating to social and economic conditions ...,
without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age, or
disability. Good health throughout the life-span of every man and woman,
good health for every child ... are fundamental to ensuring that people
of all ages are able to ... participate fully in the social, economic
and political processes of human settlements .... Sustainable human
settlements depend on ... policies ... to provide access to food and
nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation, and universal access to the
widest range of primary health-care services...; to eradicate major
diseases that take a heavy toll of human lives, particularly childhood
diseases; to create safe places to work and live; and to protect the
environment.... Measures to prevent ill health and disease are as
important as the availability of appropriate medical treatment and care.
It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to health, whereby
both prevention and care are placed within the context of environmental
Agenda, paras. 36 and 128
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street,
New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;