Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Launch of the WHO Monograph ‘Women’s and Children’s Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights’

23 May 2013

On 23 May 2013, the WHO monograph ‘Women’s and Children’s Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights’ was launched at an event organized by WHO and the Government of Germany and co-hosted by the Government of Norway.

The event was opened by the German Ambassador Thomas Fitchen and the panel discussion facilitated by Helga Fogstad, Norad, Norway.

Speakers highlighted the findings of the multi-author report which concludes that applying human rights to women’s and children’s health policies, programmes and other interventions not only helps governments comply with their binding national and international obligations, but also contributes to improving the health of women and children.

Paul Hunt, Director of the Project and a lead author of the study, placed the monograph in the context of the “maturing relationship between health and human rights”. He emphasised that the implementation of health-rights “cannot be done without respectful collaboration between health professionals, human rights experts and others” and he welcomed “the more nuanced dialogue between the health and human rights communities.” By demonstrating that human rights “contribute to health gains”, the study begins to fill a critically important gap in our knowledge about the relationship between health and human rights.

Flavia Bustreo, Chair of the Project’s multi-disciplinary Steering Group and a lead author, outlined the key findings of the study and underscored that while there are compelling legal and other reasons to incorporate a human rights-based approach, the study provides supplementary evidential reasons for adopting a human rights-based approach to women’s and children’s health.

Based on findings from case studies on Nepal, Brazil, Malawi and Italy, as well as a review of the literature on one element of a human rights-based approach (participation), Dr Bustreo emphasised that there is “plausible evidence that the human rights-based approach positively contributed to health gains.”

In the panel, three of the case-study countries were represented by top-level policy-makers: Nepal by Praveen Mishra, Secretary of Health, Malawi by Charles Mwansambo, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health and Brazil by Jarbas Barbosa, Secretary of Health. They all highlighted the importance of grassroots level analysis and partnership with civil society organisations to deliver positive health outcomes. They emphasized the need for participation and accountability, both elements of a human rights-based approach, as key pillars for ensuring effective and sustainable policies and interventions..”

The speakers confirmed one of the main findings of the monograph: there is an urgent need for a multi-disciplinary and multi-method approach to systematically assess evidence of impact of a human rights-based approach to women’s and children’s health. World Vision’s Mr Mesfin Teklu, stated that “working with citizens and communities has helped them claim their rights and ensure accountability”.

Isha Dyfan from OHCHR noted that the monograph makes an important contribution in terms of “attaching a concrete research agenda to documenting these impacts in a systematic and rigorous way.” The study, she said “is an important effort to bridge the work of human rights and health communities.”

Discussions emphasized the need for a platform, or similar arrangement, to deepen dialogue on governmental implementation of a human rights-based approach to women’s and children’s health, as well as to generate multi-disciplinary and multi-method research on the impact of human rights on women’s and children’s health.

Ambassador Fitchen closed the meeting by emphasizing that this important study gives rise to both “a commitment to and an agenda for future action”.