Gender, equity and human rights

On Human Rights Day, WHO #StandsUpForHumanRights

Infographic about Right to Health means access to UHC

8 DECEMBER 2017 – Human rights underpin much of WHO’s work, providing strategies and solutions to redress the inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power relations that often underlie inequitable health outcomes. Human Rights Day provides an opportunity to shed light on the Organization’s work across programme areas to improve health through the advancement of the right to health and other health-related human rights.

To #StandUpForHumanRights, WHO is:

Addressing inequalities rooted in discrimination - on the basis of age, sex, race, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identify, migration status and other factors - that affect access to healthcare

WHO has signed on to the Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings, which commits the United Nations to:

  • Support Member States to bring laws in line with human rights standards
  • Empower health workers and users of health services to fulfil their roles and responsibilities and claim their rights
  • Foster accountability by declaring discrimination in health care settings unacceptable
  • Implement the UN Shared Framework for Action on Combating Inequalities & Discrimination to promote quality, equity & dignity in health care

WHO has committed to tackling ageism – an insidious, invisible and widespread form of discrimination – which has detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of older people, including exposure to violence. Under its Global Strategy on Ageing and Health and as part of the 10 priorities for a Decade of Action on Healthy Ageing, WHO has undertaken to:

  • Compile data and evidence needed to inform concrete actions to end ageism
  • Organise a global coalition to steer social change
  • Create a communication platform to reframe perceptions of ageism

Tuberculosis (TB) – the top infectious disease killer and one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide – disproportionately affects those living in poverty and is exacerbated by marginalization and discrimination. Among the underserved populations at high-risk of TB and/or its negative socioeconomic impacts include prisoners, people living with HIV, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people, indigenous people, health care workers, miners and others exposed to silica, the elderly, children and women in many settings. The WHO End TB Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals target to end the TB epidemic is underpinned by principles of human rights, ethics and equity. The Moscow Declaration of the First WHO Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB in the Sustainable Development Era, seeks to urgently accelerate the response. It was adopted in November by nearly 120 high-level national delegations and highlights commitment to approaches protecting and promoting equity, ethics, gender equality, and human rights, and it seeks to inform the first-ever UNGA high-level meeting on TB in 2018.

Earlier this year, the Organization issued strong ethics guidance to protect the rights of TB patients, with a focus on ending discrimination, including five key ethical obligations for governments, health workers, researchers and other stakeholders.

Ensuring women and children adequate, respectful and non-discriminatory health care

WHO and UNICEF have launched a Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to:

  • Cut preventable maternal and newborn illness and deaths
  • Empower mothers and children to adequate, non-discriminatory health care, including through supportive and protective laws, regulations and policies
  • Measure their experience of care to ensure accountability for quality

WHO has adopted human rights standards in context of a range of sexual and reproductive health issues , including to address violence against women, preventing female genital mutilation and unsafe abortion and to ensure a positive experience during childbirth. Human rights concerns for ‘quality’ also form the basis for WHO recommendations on improving access to quality contraceptive information and services, including:

  • Respecting users’ privacy and guaranteeing confidentiality
  • Fostering an accessible, acceptable service
  • Involving users in improving services
  • Fostering continuity of care and follow-up

Taking into account the experiences of refugees, migrants and other vulnerable populations

The 70th World Health Assembly endorsed a Resolution on Promoting the health of refugees and migrants which promotes a set of guiding principles based on rights-based approaches to health. The Framework of priorities and guiding principles to promote the health of refugees and migrants includes the right to health (Principle 1) and equality and non-discrimination (Principle 2).

WHO recognizes the negative health effects of climate change disproportionately affect individuals and communities already marginalized because of where they live, who they are, their social status and other factors, who are often those who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, it is scaling up its programme of work on health and the environment, placing greater focus on the most vulnerable communities in the most vulnerable countries.

Engaging with communities is central to improving health service quality, equity and access so that marginalized voices are heard and involved in decisions affecting them

Drawing on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, WHO has launched a community engagement framework for quality, people-centred and resilient health services.

Improving the quality of health care cannot be done without building trust through more meaningful engagement between the individuals, families and local communities who use these services and the individuals, teams and institutions responsible for providing them.