Understanding Health As a Human Right

Health is an important aspect of life and can be viewed as the ability to function properly in the context of wider society. It is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The health of people can be affected by many factors that are largely outside of their control. These include their socioeconomic status, behaviours, genetics and environmental conditions. These are referred to as ‘health determinants’ and interact to influence the health of individuals and societies.

Some ‘health determinants’ are more important than others. Some, for example, are mainly risk factors such as smoking or poor diet, while others are more protective, such as having good health insurance. In addition, a number of health determinants are related to personal choices such as diet or exercise and can be altered by these choices.

Other ‘health determinants’ are related to the way society is organised. These can include access to services and facilities, quality of schools, housing and work environments. In some countries, health determinants are also influenced by government policies and regulations that impact on the lives of individuals and communities.

Health can be promoted through various actions and measures, such as public education, community support programmes, and medical treatments. This is done to help individuals and their communities maintain a healthy lifestyle, reduce the risk of illness or disease, improve the quality of their lives and ensure that people can have access to essential services and information.

Several definitions of health have been developed over time to meet different needs and purposes, such as the WHO’s ‘health as an important part of life’. These definitions differ from each other in terms of how they are framed and the ways in which they are measured.

Health is an important human right and is regarded as a fundamental component of freedom and justice. It is a legal obligation on nations to ensure that all people have timely access to high-quality healthcare, as well as provision for the underlying determinants of health. The ‘right to health’ has been endorsed by many nation states, as they are legally obliged to safeguard access to health care in a timely, acceptable and affordable manner, whilst ensuring that the underlying determinants of health are provided for, including the safe and adequate supply of water, food, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare.

The health system is the set of organisations, institutions and agencies that provide or deliver healthcare services to people. These organisations and agencies may be governmental, private or not-for-profit.

Modern medical care depends on an extensive network of specialized services that are not generally available at local hospitals, such as trauma centers, burn treatment centres, advanced neonatology unit services, organ transplants, radiation oncology and more. It also relies on information – still delivered on paper, but increasingly by electronic means – in order to diagnose and treat patients, and to manage the delivery of the healthcare system itself.
In today’s rapidly developing world, healthcare is not merely a privilege to the privileged few, but rather a universal human right, no matter one’s gender, race, religion, or national origin. This understanding of health as a human right has been articulated and promoted by the United Nations in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Health as a human right expands beyond recognition of the value of medical care for all members of society. It is also about the access to education, wellness initiatives, and preventive health services for all members of society. It is about recognizing that access to medical care is often related to the income, race, gender, and religion of individuals and addressing disparities to better ensure the most vulnerable populations have the means and resources to access quality health care.

Within the United States, progress in recognizing health as a human right is largely attributed to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010. The ACA sets forth clear standards and allows all American citizens access to health insurance, regardless of their economic status or pre-existing conditions. The law also prohibits insurance companies from charging higher rates or denying people coverage based on these factors.

The movement to understand health as a human right has spread to countries around the world, as well. Developing countries are increasingly relying on the strategies and strategies outlined at the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit to prioritize access to healthcare. Nations of the Global South began to develop strategies to improve their healthcare systems and ensure equitable access to health services.

To ensure that health is a priority for all nations, the United States has recognized and supported the principle of health as a human right in its foreign policy initiatives. For example, the US government has committed to contributing to global health research initiatives and to supporting the United Nations in its efforts to improve access to health services.

Though progress has been made in the fight to recognize health as a human right, the road to global access to quality healthcare services still remains a challenge. As countries across the world invest in the principles of health as a human right, and focus on eliminating disparity, we can be sure that the future of access to quality healthcare is a bright one.


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