The Right to Health: A Fundamental Human Right

Human Rights Day aims to reflect on the progress made in promoting and protecting human rights and recommits to the work that still needs to be done. This year is significant as it marks the 74th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights have many dimensions, including the right to life, the right to health, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The Human Rights Day slogan for 2022 is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All,” and the call to action is #StandUp4HumanRights. Promoting human rights in public health is essential because it helps ensure that everyone can enjoy good health and live free from disease and illness.

Human rights are the cornerstone of a fair and just society. Recognizing health as a human right holds the state accountable for ensuring that everyone within its jurisdiction has access to the resources and services necessary to maintain good health. This includes securing “access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality, as well as providing for the underlying determinants of health, such as safe and potable water, sanitation, food, housing, health-related information, and education, and gender equality”(WHO, 2017). Unfortunately, many people do not enjoy their full range of human rights due to violence, conflict, discrimination, or oppression across the globe. The ongoing Ukraine- Russia conflict represents a grave deterioration of human rights, with thousands of civilians being “killed and injured, massive destruction to civilian infrastructure and housing, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence.” (OHCHR, 2022). 


The public health implications of war and conflicts are far-reaching and often devastating. In addition to the direct effects of violence on health, war also leads to increased poverty and insecurity, contributing to poor nutrition. Widespread destruction of infrastructure and loss of access to essential services, including healthcare, results in increased exposure to communicable diseases and mental health deterioration due to war stress. The head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission for the war-torn country (HRMMU), Matilda Bogner, noted that widespread violence and hostilities in  Ukraine “not only endanger the lives of civilians but also leave them living in degrading conditions and undermine their rights to health, education, housing, food and water” (United Nations, 2022). In addition, women and girls are often the victims of sexual violence, rape, and other forms of violence, which can have a lasting impact on their physical and mental health. All of these factors majorly deteriorate public health conditions and increase human rights violations.

Our War and Public Health course introduces students to the extensive public health consequences of war and conflict on different populations, including refugees, humanitarian responses to war, the role of public health workers in supporting response efforts, and measures to prevent the escalation of violence. This course also explores the public health consequences of past wars, including the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, and the Democratic Republic of Congo war. It also focuses on the present Ukraine- Russian conflict and the double burden posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Additionally, our Global Solutions for Peace, Equality, and Sustainability: Building a More Just World course allows participants to probe the worldviews of the United Nation’s founders and their intentions to ensure that the great powers of 1945 would continue to hold power. This course will help learners from diverse backgrounds understand the built-in flaws of the UN and explore proposals for reform or replacement.  

The outbreak of war and violence often decays public health conditions and facilitates human rights violations. Many individuals are discriminated against, oppressed, or persecuted, and it is vital that we all stand up for human rights. As we commemorate human rights day, let us pledge to do our part to protect and promote human rights for all and strengthen accountability measures for those who violate them.

Through our collective efforts, we can help create a world where everyone can enjoy the right to health.

Reference List


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (2022). The situation of human rights in Ukraine in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation,  [EN/UK] Ukraine


United Nations. (2022). “Dire” and deteriorating pattern of rights abuse continues in Ukraine.” United Nations News.


World Health Organization. (2017). Human rights and health.

Reisha Narine