Washington, D.C., 14 December 2015 (PAHO/WHO) —The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and its member countries in the Americas have made significant progress in incorporating the right to health into their public health plans and strategies, said Dainius Puras, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Speaking today at a PAHO/WHO event to mark Human Rights Day 2015, Puras joined PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne in observing that key PAHO/WHO plans and strategies—including the 2014-2019 Strategic Plan and the 2014 regional Strategy for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage—are based on recognition that access to health services without discrimination is a basic human right.
"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," said Etienne, quoting from WHO's 1946 Constitution. "This international principle, which inextricably linked health and human rights, has served as the foundation for numerous resolutions adopted by PAHO Governing Bodies throughout the years urging Member States to advocate, promote, protect, and safeguard the human rights of groups in situations of vulnerability and especially as regards access to public health services."
"With a few exceptions, all states in the Americas have endorsed the right to health," observed Puras, who has visited a number of countries in the region to discuss their efforts to protect and promote this right. He added that the right to health necessarily encompasses a broad range of specific health rights, including sexual and reproductive rights and the right to freedom from violence, as well as the rights of specific groups in situations of vulnerability, including indigenous communities, migrants and refugees, low-income groups, people with HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities, adolescents, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community.
Etienne said that efforts to advance the right to health must recognize not only these specific human rights and groups but also the importance of other social and economic factors in determining people's health. She noted that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, strongly link the exercise of human rights with key social and economic goals related to health. These include SDG 2, ending hunger and achieving food security; SDG 3, ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages; SDG 4 ensuring inclusive education for all; SDG 5, achieving gender equality; SDG 6, ensuring access to water and sanitation; and SDG 13, taking urgent action to combat climate change.
These and other social determinants of health have been progressively integrated into PAHO/WHO's technical cooperation on human rights and health, said Javier Vasquez, PAHO Human Rights Advisor, adding that a major part of this work is assisting member countries in drafting national plans and legislation that draw on longstanding human rights principles and instruments.
"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments already incorporate many social determinants which are fundamental for health, development and more equitable systems," said Vasquez. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international and regional human rights instruments offer a unifying, conceptual legal framework for the implementation of the SDGs and the goals established by the PAHO Strategic Plan 2014-2019." "