Let’s tap into the potential of the Human Rights Framework

Dilemmas in decision-making are invariably apart of global health policy. With the variety of international actors, stakeholders, and opinions, it’s easy to see why implementing new global health policies, through ingenious and innovative, are hindered by the stalemate that is governmental bureaucracy and political agendas. However, there potentially exists a framework to navigate around these highlighted challenges – human rights.


“The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

This statement is echoed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a major component of the modern day definition of human rights. The multitude of human right documents establish concepts around the “minimum acceptable standards of health” by which all member countries should abide by in practice. The existing human rights framework provides a reasonable and coordinated framework the international community needs to fully adopt in times of global health responses and dilemmas. In many instances, the norm is to do the opposite however. It is at best questionable whether human rights has a defining impact on governmental practices, as Gostin and Sridhar note in a NEJM May article.

Slow international public health responses are the direct outcome of this, most recently from the Ebola crisis affecting West Africa. Prominent individuals, actors, and organizations have been critical of the WHO’s response to the Ebola epidemic, notably, Peter Piot:

“It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the front line,” “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

The potential of the human rights framework is shown here – a more robust implementation of the human rights framework, and more generally international human rights law, can directly change this. Currently, there are too many barriers which limit the potential human rights can effectively serve the international community – including governmental desire to maintain governance power and weak enforcement practices on behalf of the WHO to ensure international compliance with global health law standards, including human rights.

The significance and influence of the human rights framework is shown in it’s unique link to the health and well-being of individuals in practically all aspects of day-to-day living. From denying individuals the “right to specific information” or the right to live under “just and favorable conditions” (UDHR, Article), a country that fails to uphold human rights will fail to achieve improved health standards. What’s missing is the complete acknowledgement of the international community of this realization and the overall importance of human rights.

What needs to happen is a reevaluation and revamping of administrative mechanisms which the WHO utilizes in reviewing, broadcasting, and implementing human rights to the rest of the international community – maybe this calls for an entirely new enforcement body perhaps? What needs to be ensured is that the potential of the human rights framework to implement change in global health policy must not be wasted – rather it should serve as an impetus to drive forward change in this ever complicated and dynamic field of global health policy.


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