Join a Global Conversation on a New Approach to Reducing Health Inequities

inequityJoin a Global Conversation on a New Approach to Reducing Health Inequities

A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

At the core of the Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) is the conviction that today’s health inequities – nationally and globally – are unconscionable but not inevitable. The FCGH could incorporate specific mechanisms for countries to undertake to respond to these inequities, turning right to health (and human rights more broadly) norms of non-discrimination and substantive equality into directives for specific actions, into comprehensive responses. One proposal is that countries develop national health equity strategies. This idea is further explained below, along with information on an upcoming opportunity to you to participate in further solidifying this concept.

Such strategies are rare today. The FCGH could change that. But we need not, cannot, wait until our efforts to create an FCGH come to fruition to begin the process of implementing the measures it might include, such as national health equity strategies. We can begin now to encourage countries to develop such strategies. This would demonstrate their value for global adoption through the FCGH and, even more importantly, would begin to do some of the work of the FCGH — of the right to health, of the demands of justice — today.

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The realities of health inequities may be too well known to shock us any longer. People in richer countries live longer than those in poorer countries. And within countries, people who are rich live longer than people who are poor, people with more education longer than people with little schooling. Practically everywhere, certain populations, like indigenous peoples, fair badly when it comes to the potential to live long, healthy lives.

Yet the tremendous nature of this injustice ought to shock us still. It ought to shock us that the residents of one mostly white suburb of St. Louis can expect to live to be over 91 years old – 35 years more than residents of another St. Louis suburb, where most residents are black. It ought to shock us that South Asian women who are among the poorest segment of the population are almost five times less likely to be attended by a skilled birth attendant – one of the most important interventions for reducing maternal mortality – than they would be if they were part of the wealthiest segment. And it ought to shock us that the TB incidence in Canada’s indigenous Inuit people is more than 270 times that of non-indigenous Canadians.

Read moreJoin a Global Conversation on a New Approach to Reducing Health Inequities

A vote for the World’s health, absent from the headlines

Vote FCGHA vote for the world’s health, absent from the headlines

10 November 2016

The World Health Organization process of selecting a new director-general moves into high gear this week. As the U.S. presidential election has held global attention for much of 2016, this is likely the most important vote the world isn’t watching. We cannot afford to ignore the WHO leadership choice, which comes in the midst of a global health crisis.

That crisis is the ongoing epidemic of health inequalities. It is an emergency that lurks beneath the headlines, existing instead in the daily realities of vast portions of the world’s population. We come from two countries, South Africa and Bangladesh, where our governments and civil society are making tremendous efforts to improve the health of our people. We have seen important strides, including scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa and unprecedented progress in child and maternal health in Bangladesh.

Yet we continue to see snapshots of huge global inequalities of health on a regular basis. In a sprawling township outside Cape Town, many residents live in wood, tin, and plastic shacks, with toilets far and few between. The latrines are often unusable and, even when functioning, unsafe for women and children to access. In isolated parts of Bangladesh, meanwhile, it is still not unusual for a woman to give birth on the dirt floor of her own home without any trained personnel present.

Read moreA vote for the World’s health, absent from the headlines

10 Ways the FCGH Could Advance the Right to Health

Right to health10 Ways the FCGH Could Advance the Right to Health

I believe that we need the FCGH to help make the right to health real for the large portions of the world’s population who live — and die — amid conditions, systems, policies, and practices that give them little chance of enjoying the “highest achievable standard of physical and mental health” to which all people are entitled. How will a new treaty, the FCGH, help, when the right to health is already a binding obligation for all countries? Here are ten reasons that new, more precise, binding international law on the right to health could make a difference.

1. Increasing accountability for the right to health, including by requiring states to develop strategies and mechanisms that would enhance accountability at the domestic level and opening up additional possibilities for international accountability mechanisms (more here). The treaty could also help ensure that courts recognize the justicability of the right to health, including the specific requirements in the FCGH.

2. Empowering civil society and communities by mandating inclusive participatory processes at all stages of health-related policy making, providing for right to health education, and providing additional tools — such as the binding nature of FCGH requirements and the treaty’s specific strategies and monitoring, reporting, and other enforcement mechanisms — to enhance community and civil society advocacy.

3. Clarifying through progressive interpretations presently binding yet ambiguous standards for the right to health and other economic social, and cultural rights (such as on progressive realization and the maximum available resources). This should improve implementation of and enhance accountability to these standards.

Read more10 Ways the FCGH Could Advance the Right to Health