BMA Launches ‘Right To Health’ Toolkit

A toolkit that calls on governments to put the health of their citizens first has been released by the BMA and the Commonwealth Medical Trust. Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is launching the ‘Right to Health’ toolkit.

She has described it as a charter to promote and protect health: “The toolkit does not demand a ‘right to be healthy’ or ask governments to commit resources they do not have to the provision of health care. But it calls for the right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities and conditions that are necessary for good health, for example safe water, food, sanitation and shelter.

“It is totally unjust that life expectancy in rich countries is approaching 80, while in the poorest it is under 40. It is also unacceptable that children living in the poorest countries are ten times more likely to die before they reach the age of five than their western counterparts.”

The ‘Right to Health’ toolkit provides a human rights approach to health – this means that the necessary resources are given to those who have the greatest needs. It exposes situations where public funds are being used to build yet more hospitals in large cities, or where expensive equipment is being purchased for elective procedures that only benefit the wealthy or urban populations, while rural populations or vulnerable groups are denied even the minimum standard of health care.

Key elements of the toolkit include:

  • Accountability – by signing international human rights treaties that affirm the right to health, a state agrees to be accountable to the international community, as well as its citizens, for the fulfilment of its obligations.
  • Participation – a good human rights approach to health emphasises that good health services can only be achieved if people participate in their design and delivery.
  • Availability – public health and health care facilities should be available in sufficient quantity, taking into account a country’s developmental and economic condition.
  • Accessibility – the health system should be accessible to all.
  • Acceptability – health services should be ethically and culturally appropriate.
  • Quantity – health services should be scientifically and medically appropriate and of the highest quality.

A human rights approach to healthcare poses specific challenges for health professionals. They may have access to sensitive information about the conduct of  public authorities such as governments or the military. The BMA tool kit advises that if health professionals have evidence of practices that violate the right to health, for example discrimination or torture, this information should be documented and reported to appropriate authorities.

The BMA will now disseminate this toolkit to an international health care audience in order to promote as wide an understanding as possible of the practical implications of the right to health for health professionals and their associations.

The ‘Right to health’ toolkit can be accessed on the BMA website.