It’s time that we face the facts about our right to health. There are two sides to look at: the facts about what this fundamental human right includes, and facts about why this right is denied to the vast majority of people around the world. This post begins on the first side, with an introduction to a comprehensive fact sheet from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization. Once we all know our right to health, we can better understand why it is often denied, and see clearer how we can address this failure of human rights and decency.
As human beings, our health and the health of those we care about is a matter of daily concern. Regardless of our age, gender, socio-economic or ethnic background, we consider our health to be our most basic and essential asset. Ill health, on the other hand, can keep us from going to school or to work, from attending to our family responsibilities or from participating fully in the activities of our community. By the same token, we are willing to make many sacrifices if only that would guarantee us and our families a longer and healthier life. In short, when we talk about well-being, health is often what we have in mind.
The right to health is a fundamental part of our human rights and of our understanding of a life in dignity. The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to give it its full name, is not new. Internationally, it was first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), whose preamble defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The preamble further states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”