Scott Wallace / World Bank
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Human rights


    The WHO Constitution (1948) and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) were the first international instruments to enshrine health as a fundamental right of every human being. The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was subsequently incorporated into the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). In international human rights law, the right to health is an inclusive right, extending beyond healthcare to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to potable water, sanitation, adequate food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health. 

    The normative scope and content of the right to health (i.e., the standard for the human right to health) comprises four interrelated elements which require that public health and healthcare facilities, goods, services and programmes, in addition to the underlying determinants of health, be Available, Accessible, Acceptable and Quality.

    The right to health requires time and resources to fully achieve. However, it also imposes  obligations of immediate effect on states including the guarantee of non-discrimination, and the obligation to take deliberate, concrete and targeted steps towards realizing the right to health for all. 

    Human Rights-Based Approach

    The human rights-based approach (HRBA) to sustainable development can be summarized as:

    1. Goal: All development cooperation activities should respect and advance human rights.
    2. Process: Human rights standards and principles should guide all development cooperation and programming activities from start to finish.
    3. Outcome: Development cooperation activities should contribute to states respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights obligations and ensuring all people can claim their human rights. The human rights-based approach:
    • Employs an intersectoral analysis to identify the inequities which lie at the heart of development and works to end discriminatory processes and practices, gender inequality and unjust distributions of power that lead to groups of people being left behind;
    • requires that the human rights principles of universality, participation, accountability, equality and non-discrimination  anchor development work 
    • focuses on developing the capacities of states and partners to advance and respect rights and the ability of people to claim their rights;
    • ensures that plans, policies and processes of development cooperation are anchored in international human rights law, and advance and respect civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights and requires that states  and partners are accountable for their international human rights obligations.

    WHO response

    WHO works with Member States and other partners to support the realization of the right to health through technical assistance, normative guidance and support. WHO based its 13th General Programme of Work (2019 – 2025) on Sustainable Development Goal 3, including mainstreaming human rights, gender and health equity in all policies and programmes at headquarters (HQ), Regional Offices and Country Offices, as well as in its internal policies and operations.

    The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes human rights, gender equality/women’s empowerment and the commitment to Leave No One Behind (LNOB) as core principles. Implementing the human rights-based approach in the 2030 Agenda requires that all programmes further the realisation of human rights.

    Operationally, meeting the commitment to LNOB at the country level requires an intersectoral approach to identify who is being left behind and why. LNOB requires establishing inclusive processes for national health policy priority setting, programme development, implementation, monitoring and accountability. Activities should prioritize addressing gender inequality, discrimination, racism and inclusion of marginalized communities as well as effective measures to address root cause and growing inequality within and among countries.


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