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Human Rights-Based Approach to Health

The right to the highest attainable standard of health (referred to in short as “the right to health”) was first reflected in WHO's Constitution and has been firmly endorsed in a wide range of international and regional human rights instruments. The most authoritative interpretation of the right to health is outlined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has been ratified by approximately 150 countries. In May 2000 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors the Covenant, adopted a General Comment on the right to health that further clarifies the nature, scope and content of the right to health.

Within the UN system, there is the following common understanding of a human rights-based approach to development cooperation and development programming:

  • All programmes of development cooperation, policies and technical assistance should further the realization of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
  • Human rights standards contained in, and principles derived from, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments guide all development cooperation and programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.
  • Development cooperation contributes to the development of the capacities of “duty-bearers” to meet their obligations and/or of “rights-holders” to claim their rights.

In relation to health, a rights-based approach means integrating human rights norms and principles in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of health-related policies and programmes. These include human dignity, attention to the needs and rights of vulnerable groups, and an emphasis on ensuring that health systems are made accessible to all. The principle of equality and freedom from discrimination is central, including discrimination on the basis of sex and gender roles. Integrating human rights into development also means empowering poor people, ensuring their participation in decision-making processes which concern them and incorporating accountability mechanisms which they can access.

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