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Universal Health Coverage Day: Right to Health

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More people can access essential health services today than ever before, but at least half of the world’s population still go without. Those living in the poorest countries, in the most marginalized communities, face the greatest challenges in access, the highest burden of disease, and the worst health outcomes. 

This year is an opportunity to stand up for their rights. It is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, and the 70th anniversary of WHO. Both the Declaration and WHO’s Constitution, the organization’s founding document, assert that health is a fundamental right for all people.

These are the ABCs of what it will take to deliver the right to health.

A is for access

The right to health is about ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access affordable, quality healthcare.

This is the defining principle of universal health coverage: no one should get sick and die just because they are poor, because of who they are or where they were born, or because they cannot access the health services they need.



Bis for breaking down barriers

Achieving universal health coverage requires deliberate and focused efforts to reach those most at risk of being left behind.

Whether social, cultural, structural or financial, a rights-based approach means identifying disadvantage and breaking down barriers related to access, affordability, the quality, or availability of healthcare services.

Feature story:
 The invisible boys and girls – Understanding barriers to accessing healthcare among disadvantaged Nigerian youth 

This analysis must be facilitated by robust data, broken down by gender, age, education, ethnicity and other factors, which informs efforts to address gaps and direct resources.

Cis for civil society

Ensuring the participation of communities in health policies and programmes is a fundamental principle of human rights, but also, good for health outcomes.
It means engaging and empowering people in the decisions that affect their health, designing health systems around the needs of people instead of diseases and health institutions, so that everyone gets the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

WHO has recently committed to strengthening its engagement with civil society, including through improving governance mechanisms, policy, and ensuring a greater opportunity for oversight and accountability, and a greater role in data, research and innovation.

Dis for determinants of health

Health is about more than health care. It refers also to the underlying determinants that impact our current and future health: factors like the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the houses we live in, or the education we receive.

These factors are shaped by legal and economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, policies and political systems, and require coordinated responses to ensure that people are able to achieve their highest attainable standard of health.

This is why this year’s groundbreaking Declaration of Astana, agreed by all WHO member states, talks not only about the need to provide affordable, quality healthcare, but also about creating the healthy societies and environments that will protect the health of the world’s people.

E is for equality and non-discrimination

Inequalities can always impact on health – linked to where someone lives or where they were born, their gender, ethnicity, age, race, sexuality, asylum or migration, health or any other status.

Inequality can also be reflected in discrimination and abuse that occurs in healthcare itself, affecting both health workers and service users. This undermines universal health coverage in multiple ways: by jeopardizing investment in health, deterring people from seeking healthcare, and disempowering or depriving people of their dignity.

Tackling discrimination in healthcare requires a holistic and united response. It means working to strengthen service quality, raising awareness on the rights of health workers and service users – with mechanisms for redress – and tackling practices that are harmful to health.

As the world commemorates the 70th birthday of WHO and the Universal Declaration, WHO is renewing its commitment to health as a human right.

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