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Health — more than ever, a human right

10 Dec 2021

On Human Rights Day, we focus on a topic that is on our minds year-round – that of global health as a basic human right, shared here through the perspectives of Martin Hevia, a WHF Emerging Leader, lawyer and Dean and Associate Professor of Law at the University Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. Prof Hevia is also President of the Iberoamerican Association of Law Schools with research interests in human rights law, medical law, bioethics and global health policy.

Being healthy is so much more than simply not being ill; health is fundamental to leading a meaningful life. This includes having a conducive environment that allows us to be on our best form so that we can develop the plans we have set for ourselves, fulfill our commitments, and be a functioning part of an interconnected society. As we have been seeing, health is not a siloed issue as illness can spread across borders and whole continents. The commitment of one country or jurisdiction to the right to health also involves cooperation with other countries.

We can trace some earliest discussions about health rights to one of the last century’s significant achievements – the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN Assembly. The Declaration’s focus on rights to free expression, freedom of association, and free movement have been something of a precursor to the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights which entails the right to health in order to thrive.

Public health is about the community, not just the individual. This is why vaccine hesitancy – on COVID-19 or other illnesses — is a critical issue to be addressed because it ignores the interdependent aspects of health and the impacts of putting others at risk through our actions. In many parts of the world such as in Latin America, the discussion revolves not around whether or not to get vaccinated but on getting access to the vaccine at all. Without even access to vaccines, the question of whether to make it obligatory or not becomes moot. Securing the vaccines is still a first challenge for many countries but in addition to vaccine access is the need for clear and accurate communications.

Some people in our communities are more exposed to getting COVID-19 and severe forms of it. This knowledge should send a clear message to our policymakers to ensure that we are putting our communities at the heart of our decision-making and putting noncommunicable diseases at the top of the agenda.

A global commitment to the right to health and healthcare for everyone can help avert complications and tension. With WHO’s guidance, global leaders have been gathering to address an urgent call for a framework that addresses pandemic preparedness. This would be a crucial step to rallying international commitment and better cooperation for global health. Such a framework would help countries ensure that the appropriate infrastructure and mechanisms are in place and that we are ready for situations of the kind we now face.

The pandemic has been an unfortunate opportunity to reinforce the importance of everyone’s right to healthcare and the ways in which public health implicates and affects us all. Alongside promoting the benefits of good nutrition, physical activity and all the factors that promote health including heart health, must also be investment in public health and access to health services. In addition to the tremendous progress such as seen with the COVID-19 vaccines are other positive health developments. For example, Argentina recently passed a law on front-of-pack labelling. Such a move aims to improve standards on nutrition and help consumers make informed and healthy food choices.

As part of the WHF Emerging Leaders Programme, I had the wonderful experience of meeting people of different backgrounds and sharing knowledge and practical experience all geared to improving heart health. Our common commitment was mutually instructive as I discussed human rights and others talked about public health. WHF continues to play a critical role globally by convening practitioners and broad sectors to tackle heart health and by promoting the science and policy so crucial to this mission.