The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without the distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
The right to health means that governments must generate conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible. Such conditions range from ensuring availability of health services, healthy and safe working conditions, adequate housing and nutritious food. The right to health does not mean the right to be healthy.
The right to health has been enshrined in numerous international and regional human rights treaties as well as national constitutions all over the world.
Examples of UN human rights treaties:
Examples of regional human rights treaties:
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) in Article 12 states that steps for the realization of the right to health include those that:
To clarify and operationalize the above provisions, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors compliance with the ICESCR, adopted a General Comment on the Right to Health in 2000.
The General Comment sets out that the right to health extends not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.
According to the General Comment, the right to health contains four elements:
The right to health, like all human rights, imposes on States Parties three types of obligations:
According to the General Comment, the right to health also has a "core content" referring to the minimum essential level of the right. Although this level cannot be determined in the abstract as it is a national task, key elements are set out to guide the priority setting process. Essential primary health care; minimum essential and nutritious food; sanitation; safe and potable water; and essential drugs are included in the core content. Another core obligation is the adoption and implementation of a national public health strategy and plan of action. This must address the health concerns of the whole population; be devised, and periodically reviewed, on the basis of a participatory and transparent process; contain indicators and benchmarks by which progress can be closely monitored; and give particular attention to all vulnerable or marginalized groups.
States Parties must take steps forward in conformity with the principle of progressive realization. This imposes an obligation to move forward as expeditiously and effectively as possible, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, to the maximum of available resources. In this context, it is important to distinguish the inability from the unwillingness of a State Party to comply with its right to health obligations.