This blog was written by Emily Clark, an intern in the Policy Communications Department of the Global Health Council.
At last week’s global health journalism discussion at the 38th Annual International Conference on Global Health, an audience member approached the presenters with a question about “rights-based approaches” to health. As it turned out, none of the panelists seemed to know what a “rights-based approach” to health was. Language linking health and human rights kept cropping up at the conference, so as terminology that is not yet in everyone’s lexicon, it seems apt to present a few definitions.
The connections between health and human rights are numerous and complex. At the same time, there are two very common ways of speaking about health and human rights, and these should be characterized and distinguished. One is the reference to a specific “right to health” and the other is in the more abstract term, “rights-based approaches” to health. The notion of a right to health parallels the right to life. Both are internationally recognized legal norms that can be harnessed domestically and incorporated into legal doctrine. At the same time, they are ideals that are not universally upheld.
It is important to be clear, when referring to a right to health, whether one is referencing existing norms, advocating for there to be additional legal frameworks or speaking from an exclusively philosophical point of view. On the other hand, a rights-based approach to health (RBA, for short) does not necessarily raise questions about international or domestic law. It presents a framework that can be used in planning or evaluating programmatic activities. An RBA helps to harmonize any policy with the principles of human rights, and can be broken down into four components. The “AAAQ” framework is a widely used method of evaluation, and means that facilities, goods and services must be:
1. Available in sufficient quantities;
2. Accessible physically, economically and without discrimination;
3. Acceptable culturally and ethically; and
4. Of appropriate and good quality.
For additional information, consult the WHO’s fact sheet on the linkages between health and human rights as well as Dr. Helen Pott’s “Participation and the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health.”