Good health is the foundation of a good life. Our health affects every single aspect of our lives – our work, our social lives, our family. To be healthy, there are many needs that have to be fulfilled: enough nutritious food, clean water, a good place to live, clean air, and so on. Even then we get sick, and then we rely on health services. When we get sick, most of us are know that we will get the help and medicines we need. But we are the lucky ones – for many, the medicines they need to live a fulfilling life can cost more than they make in a year.
“Everyone [has the right to] the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health [and] the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.”
-Convention on Social, Economical and Cultural Rights, article 12
Since good health is necessary to live a good life - or indeed, to live at all - it is protected through numerous human rights
conventions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing.” This means that everyone has the right to a decent life, with adequate food, living standards, sanitation, clothing – in short, everything you need to preserve your health. This is only one side of the coin, however. Even those with the highest possible standard of living will experience health problems, which is why the right to health includes the right to healthcare.
When you get sick, you have the right to get high-quality treatment. Every country is obligated to provide doctors, hospitals and
medicines to all its citizens. If a disease is treatable, everyone has the right to that treatment.
Global health inequality
But global access to health is far from a reality. Women, children, and people with disabilities are especially disadvantaged when it comes to health services. Indigenous populations often suffer more health problems than their majority counterparts, while often having less health services available.
Many people with mental disorders are kept in mental institutions against their will, despite having the capacity to make decisions regarding their future. Similarly, women are frequently denied access to sexual and reproductive health care and services in developing and developed countries.
This is a human rights violation that is deeply ingrained in societal values about women’s sexuality.
In addition to denial of care, women in certain societies are sometimes forced into procedures such as sterilization, abortions or virginity examinations. Nearly 50 000 women die every year because they cannot access safe reproductive health services, forcing them to rely on unsafe practitioners.
Vital medicine: A luxury product?
Marginalized groups in societies are often less likely to enjoy the right to health. Three of the world’s most fatal communicable diseases - malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis - affect the world’s poorest populations, placing a tremendous burden on the economies of developing countries. These diseases are treatable, but most of those who are affected simply cannot afford that treatment. There is a
direct link between social class and what medical facilities you have access to. People living in poverty does simply not have the same access to necessary medicines. Medicine is still a luxury product for many. For example, many of the 33 million HIV - patients worldwide - most in developing countries - simply cannot afford the medicines they need, which severely reduces their quality of life.