The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is a human right. References to the right to health are found in international and regional law, treaties, United Nations declarations, and national laws and constitutions across the globe. The right to health guarantees everyone a system of health protection and the freedom to make decisions about their health regardless of who they are, where they live, what they believe or what they do. Elements of the right to health include access to health services, including access to sexual and reproductive health services. Fulfilling the right to health is inter-related with and interdependent upon other rights including the right to adequate sanitation, food, decent housing, healthy working conditions and a clean environment.
The right to health is supported by, and dependent upon, a wider set of rights. Without the conditions to ensure our right to equality, the right to access, the right to a clean environment, the right to be free from violence or the right to education, for example, we cannot fulfil our right to health. If the air is polluted, people succumb to lung disease. Equally, without the right to health, we cannot realize related rights. For example, a child malnourished and anaemic owing to hookworm would not be able to attend school and fully fulfil his or her right to education. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the framework for leveraging opportunities at intersections between the right to health and other rights.
The right to health is not the same thing as the right to be healthy. Governments are obliged to provide the conditions necessary for good health. However, it is impossible to control factors such as genetics and age that influence our ability to be healthy.
WHY THE RIGHT TO HEALTH?
World AIDS Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the interdependence between progress in ending AIDS and progress towards universal health coverage and the right to health.
Everyone, including people living with or affected by HIV and people at risk of HIV, has the right to health. Without the right to health, people living with HIV and people at risk of HIV lack the services they need to keep themselves and their families healthy. Ensuring accessible, acceptable, available and good quality health services is a core principle of the right to health and is at the centre of the AIDS response.
The AIDS response was, from the outset, built upon the fundamental right to health and well-being. Advocacy for a rights-based health system provided the AIDS community with the leverage points it needed to accelerate efforts to understand HIV and then how to prevent and treat it. The AIDS response was both a driver of and driven by the progress achieved at the intersection between health and human rights.