Lead In Our Environment is a Major Cause of Global Health Inequity

LeadLead In Our Environment is a Major Cause of Global Health Inequity

I believe we need a global treaty, like the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to ensure that basic health is a right that every citizen enjoys, no matter where they live and no matter how poor or rich their families might be. There are vast health inequities that separate various countries and various communities within countries. It is for this reason that several of us from around the globe have come together in a call for the governments around the world to agree to a Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH).

Science and medicine is frustratingly known for its “good news, bad news” stories on a daily basis, as a recent Kristin Anderson Moore blog reveals. She referred to data in America that show a significant decline in teen birth rate from 55.6 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 in 1975 to 24.2 in 2014. There was also a decline in overall youth violence (in spite of an upsurge in the 1990s). For example, rate of serious violent crime among juveniles ages 12-17 declined from almost 40 per 100,000 in the early 1980s to 7.6 in 2015 and the homicide rate among youth ages 18-24 fell substantially.

There are scientific studies that link these significant declines in teen pregnancies and in youth violence to the reduction of lead toxicity in American communities. This is the good news. The bad news? Lead continues to be a serious environmental risk factor for health. Indeed, lead exposure is another inequity that people face around the world. Children and women of reproductive age in certain parts of the world are more exposed to lead than their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Lead is a toxic, deadly chemical, causing serious illnesses and accounting for far too many deaths around the world. It is one of the major causes of cognitive deficits in children everywhere. We have known this for many decades and many countries have laws and regulations that restrict the use of lead. Yet after many decades since its deadly consequences became known, lead continues to be a persistent environmental hazard. One of the major sources of lead poisoning is our transport system. For example lead gasoline is still in use in many countries around the world.

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FCGH Background Briefing: The Right to Health

FCGHFramework Convention on Global Health Background Briefing: The Right to Health

August 2014
The Right to Health
Encompassing FCGH key principles

  1. o)  Define state responsibilities for the health of all its inhabitants on an equal basis, regardless of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or socioeconomic, migration, disability, disease, or other status, and to promote equality through equity, ensuring equal access to good quality and responsive health services, including by removing financial barriers and ensuring physical accessibility and dignified treatment.
  2. p)  Remove all discrimination and other barriers in law, policy, and practice that undermine the right to health.
    x) Strengthen global leadership on the right to health, including that of WHO.

The right to health is already codified through numerous global and regional treaties, most prominently the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (“the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”) (article 12). An analysis of national constitutions adopted through 2011 found that 105 guaranteed everyone the right to health or specifically the right to medical care or public health.1 The right’s principles are detailed most prominently in General Comment 14 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,2 as since elaborated upon through reports on the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to health – and related rights such as those on food and on water and sanitation3 – along with general comments and recommendations from other treaty bodies4 and national and regional court cases.

Yet, major gaps and shortcomings exist in both international right to health law as it exists and in its implementation:
1. Clarity of key principles: General Comment 14 and other elucidations of the right to health have gone far towards developing its normative principles. Indeed, many of these – such as equality and non-discrimination, participation in health-related decisions, and accountability – are foundation elements of an FCGH.

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Dear UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moonDear Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

April 18, 2014

We commend you for your leadership on the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, and your commitment that the principles of human rights and equality will underpin the SDGs. It is a vision we share, and one that has been emphasized through the consultative process that you have led, from the High Level Panel to far-flung communities of people subject to human rights abuses and discrimination.

Yet it is a vision that we believe cannot be achieved without new legally binding instruments that ensure accountability to commitments in the SDGs and to human rights more generally. Such instruments are needed to establish effective governance and to empower people to enforce their rights in ways that the human rights treaty regime presently lacks and were not built in to MDG process.

From our own experiences in global health, we have seen realities time and again fall short of health promises, and are concerned that without more clearly defined national and global responsibilities for health and greater accountability, such a fate may also befall the health SDG(s). Whatever the health goal(s) in the final SDGs, they cannot be realized in full without this type of enabling instruments. Indeed, given the connections between health and most anticipated focus areas of the SDGs, such an instrument, focused on health, would contribute to achieving many of the other SDGs too.

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