Adding bite to bark: a human rights based approach in healthcare

Monday, 3 July 2017

IAPO CEO Kawaldip Sehmi explores how using a human rights-based approach (HRBA) can be a powerful factor in achieving patient-centred healthcare.
 

The problem

We believe that every person has an economic, social and cultural right to a universal minimum standard of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as: a right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. However, this is not the case for many people today.

Many organizations and patients’ groups are concerned that social and structural factors in their countries are preventing health systems from delivering an adequate supply of affordable, acceptable and quality health services and public health programmes to their patients.

Despite these concerns, problems still remain. Traditional methods of advocating for change have not had enough impact.
 

The start of a solution

The WHO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launched guidance in 2014 on how the State and non-State actors can use a human rights-based approach to address some of these issues.

This came about because Member States were going to miss the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets to set-up universal access to reproductive health services and reduce maternal mortality by 75%, and the under-five mortality by two thirds by 2015. Social-structural factors had prevented the delivery of the targets. This prompted WHO to ask OHCHR to ‘give a bite to the bark’ of non-State actors’ advocacy by building capacity in NGOs to hold the State to account for breaches of maternal and child health rights.
 

The next step: opening up health systems to international scrutiny

Most patients’ organizations have been trying to end inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power relationships within their health systems by advocating patient-centred health systems. We have been calling for meaningful patient-engagement and patient-involvement in decision-making for over 15 years. Traditional advocacy approaches now need strengthening with a HRBA.

A HRBA echoes IAPO’s aims to make all health policy and decision-making processes participatory, transparent, accountable and non-discriminatory, while respecting the rule of law.  A HRBA adds more to our traditional advocacy work because it is supported by the International Human Rights Framework, a body of international law monitored by UN agencies that most Member States have ratified in more than 10 international treaties.

Patient advocates can now go beyond their national constitutions, statutory law (Acts of Parliament) and subsidiary legislation to seek help from international law. They can invite global health governance scrutiny on the actions and inactions of their national governments and their health systems.
 

What this means for IAPO

We now have a golden opportunity to achieve patient-centred health systems by using a human rights-based approach to health. We need to form international partnerships with human rights organizations to reform social-structural factors in our countries that are preventing health systems from delivering an adequate supply of affordable, acceptable and quality health services and public health programmes. This is a big step in helping patients realize their right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.
 

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