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WHO Urges Global Action To Uphold Right To Health

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On the anniversary of its founding, the WHO has urged countries to invest, combat discrimination and intolerance, and enhance equal access to quality health services.

Marking World Health Day (April 7, 2024), the WHO runs the “My Health, My right” campaign to advocate for the right to health globally. The campaign emphasises the imperative of ensuring universal access to high-quality health services, education, and information, alongside necessities such as safe drinking water, clean air, adequate nutrition, quality housing, decent working conditions and a healthy environment, free from discrimination.

According to WHO, pervasive challenges, including political inaction, insufficient accountability and funding, and entrenched discrimination and stigma, consistently undermine the realisation of the right to health globally. Particularly vulnerable populations, such as those living in poverty, displaced individuals, the elderly and people with disabilities, bear the brunt of these challenges.

While political inaction and injustice stand as primary impediments to fulfilling the right to health, ongoing crises exacerbate these violations. Conflicts wreak havoc, causing widespread devastation, both physically and mentally and hindering access to essential health services. Simultaneously, the burning of fossil fuels intensifies the climate crisis, infringing upon the right to clean air and precipitating extreme weather events that imperil health and strain access to vital services.

WHO emphasises that everyone deserves unhindered access to quality health services, devoid of discrimination or financial hardship. Shockingly, in 2021, over half of the global population, totalling 4.5 billion people, lacked coverage for essential health services, rendering them vulnerable to diseases and disasters. Even those who manage to access care often face economic hardship, with approximately 2 billion people grappling with financial burdens due to health expenses, a predicament that has worsened over the past two decades.

To expand coverage and bridge this gap, WHO estimates an additional investment of US$200–328 billion annually is required globally to bolster primary health care in low- and middle-income countries, equivalent to 3.3 per cent of national forecast GDP. Despite the challenges, progress is attainable with political commitment, as evidenced by the improvement in health service coverage and protection against catastrophic health spending in 42 countries since 2000.

Director-general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus asserted, “Realising the right to health necessitates governmental action, including the enactment and enforcement of laws, investment, combatting discrimination and being accountable to their populations. The WHO is collaborating with governments, partners and communities worldwide to ensure the highest achievable standard of health as an inalienable right for all individuals, irrespective of their geographic location”.

While the right to health is enshrined in the WHO Constitution, mere recognition is insufficient. WHO advocates for legislative measures to embed the right to health across sectors and integrate human rights into health policies and programs, to make health services universally accessible, responsive to community needs, and inclusive of community input in health decision-making processes.

On this World Health Day and going forward, WHO calls upon governments to make substantial investments in expanding primary health care, ensuring transparency and accountability, and actively involving individuals and communities in health-related decision-making. Recognising the interdependence of the right to health with other fundamental rights, the campaign extends its calls to action to encompass finance, agriculture, environment, justice, transport, labour and social affairs.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of individuals, communities and civil society in advancing health rights, WHO urged the public to assert, safeguard, and advocate for their health rights, including access to safe and quality care, freedom from discrimination, privacy, information, bodily autonomy and decision-making.




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