Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Using indicators to determine the contribution of human rights to public health efforts

Sofia Gruskin & Laura Ferguson

There is general agreement on the need to integrate human rights into health policies and programmes, although there is still reluctance to go beyond rhetorical acknowledgement of their assumed significance. To determine the actual value of human rights for the effectiveness of public health efforts requires clarity about what their incorporation looks like in practice and how to assess their contribution. Despite the pervasive use of indicators in the public health field, indicators that specifically capture human rights concerns are not well developed and those that exist are inconsistently used. Even though “health and human rights indicators” are increasingly being constructed, it is often the case that health indicators are used to draw conclusions about some interaction between human rights and health; or that law and policy or other indicators, traditionally the domain of the human rights community, are used to make conclusions about health outcomes. To capture the added value that human rights bring to health, the differences in the contributions offered by these indicators need to be understood. To determine the value of different measures for advancing programme effectiveness, improving health outcomes and promoting human rights, requires questioning the intended purpose behind the construction of an indicator, who uses it, the kind of indicator it is, the extent to which it provides information about vulnerable populations, as well as how the data are collected and used.