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Social Justice and Health Rights

Asanka Abeyrathna

The United Nations and member countries commemorated International Health Day on April 7th 2021. The theme of this year’s event was “Building a Fairer, Healthier World.” Each country has endorsed at least one treaty on the rights of patients. The Right to Healthcare is a human right for all, and access to health services, sanitation, nutritious food, suitable housing, clean environments, and physical and mental wellbeing are fundamental human rights.  

States are legally bound to care for the health of their citizens. According to the constitution of WHO (1946), the organization targets to achieve the highest standard of health as a fundamental right of each human. Accordingly, health is accepted as a human right and health rights must be based on social justice. States are legally bound to assure qualitative, affordable and acceptable health services, clean drinking water, sanitation and healthy food. Further, States must immediately take steps to allocate sufficient funds for health and remove all barriers to access to health. The processes must be evaluated by international human rights mechanisms such as the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Many states have recognized health rights in domestic laws and constitutions. Health rights can be more prominent than other rights because violation of health rights can cause death.

Need for an Equitable health Service

On many occasions, healthcare risks are high due to age, sexual orientation, gender, identity and migratory status. Laws and policies that prevent access to healthcare, treatments, rehabilitation and care services increase marginalization. However, social benefits can be achieved if a rights-based approach is followed in terms of policies and programmes. Although sanitation is linked to human rights, underprivileged communities lack healthcare opportunities due to marginalization. Therefore, marginalized communities must be given priority. This need is addressed in the recently endorsed 2030 Sustainable Development and Universal Health coverage Programme. 

Discriminations that violate the right to enjoy the highest standards in terms of physical and mental health, contribute to the acceleration of disease spread. Therefore, the need for a public health service based on social equity to achieve fundamental health rights must be prioritized. Equal right to access of emergency medical treatments must be enhanced. Systematic guidance for new global solidarity in terms of responding to the pandemic is of paramount importance. The health rights recognized by the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes the measures for the prevention, treatment, and control of epidemics. For that, guaranteeing medical services and treatment, equipment needed in a medical condition, services and facilities are essential. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights highlights that joint measures for sharing medical equipment, best practices and new treatment methods are required in international cooperation on healthcare. 

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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