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Conference examines use of human rights laws & instruments to promote health

Washington, DC, 22 March 2012 (PAHO/WHO) – The use of human rights law and instruments to protect and promote the right to health was the focus of debate and recommendations by a group of experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), representatives of other international organizations and students and professors from the Washington College of Law of the American University during the Inaugural Conference on Health, Gender and Human Rights, on March 21-22.

The experts and academicians examined trends in the rights of people with disabilities and mental health problems, people with divergent gender identities, and older adults, and discussed the use of human rights standards and instruments to improve policies on maternal-child health and access to medicines. Participants drafted recommendations in each of these areas, which will be compiled and published in a special edition of Health Law and Policy Brief, a bi-annual publication of the Washington College of Law.

The results of the conference “will support PAHO Member States, international agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector and universities in their efforts to comply with the Millennium Development Goals and the inclusion of health in all policies and plans in a manner consistent with universal and regional human rights treaties,” said PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Socorro Gross. She added that the conference had identified “very clear actions for health policies and legislative reforms that are consistent with human rights norms.”

In 2010, at PAHO’s 50th Directing Council meeting, ministers of health from throughout the Americas agreed to promote training, research, and innovative approaches in the use of human rights standards and instruments to advance health. They agreed to document and share best practices in this area and to facilitate collaboration among governments, academic institutions, the private sector and civil society organizations. “Today we are certainly advancing on these responsibilities,” said Dr. Gross.

Dr. Claudio Grossman, Dean of the Washington College of Law, noted the importance of PAHO’s efforts to link human rights and health. “We need a concerted effort by everyone to create a reality in which human beings can develop to their fullest potential,” he said, adding that much remained to be done in this regard.

Other participants in the conference included Dr. Anand Grover, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health (via videolink); Dr. María Soledad Cisternas, Vice-president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and Dr. Jorge Bermúdez, Vice-president of Production and Innovation in Health at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Brazil.

During their two-day meeting, participants discussed trends, challenges and strategies for using human rights laws and instruments to improve health policies in the region of the Americas and around the world. They examined examples of how to effectively use human rights instruments in areas including maternal-child health, access to medicines and tobacco control. Discussions focused on six working documents developed by students and PAHO experts. A seventh document focused on the right to give and receive health information.

Cada discusión en los grupos se basó en seis documentos de trabajo elaborados por estudiantes y expertos de la OPS. Un séptimo documento sobre el derecho a recibir y a dar información sobre salud sirvió de base para debatir este derecho en relación a los desafíos planteados por los otros documentos de trabajo.

Organizers of the conference were: the Program on Law and Government of the American University (AU) Washington College of Law, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala, in cooperation with the Center on Health, Risk and Society; WCL Health Law and Policy Brief; WCL Health Law and Justice Initiative; WCL Women and the Law Program; WCL Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law; WCL Health Law and Justice Program; and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.



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