CanMEDS Health Advocate
Health as a Human Right

Health as a Human Right



Health IS a Human Right

The international human rights framework came out of the atrocities and genocide of World War II.  The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created to recognize the basic freedoms that all people should have.  These freedoms, including the right to health, should be available to everyone regardless of  race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.


Article 25 of the Declaration(1) further clarifies the right to health:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

 Human rights offer a conceptual approach connecting health, social conditions and the principles of civilian participation in political rights. As Braveman and Gruskin[2] argue, the human rights perspective removes actions to relieve poverty from the realm of charity to the domain of law. Over recent years, the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health has been instrumental in advancing the political agenda around the right to health at national and global levels.

In their paper they tell us that:

  • Health equity is the absence of systematic disparities in health (or its social determinants) between more and less advantaged social groups.

  • Social advantage means wealth, power, and/or prestige —;; the attributes defining how people are grouped in social hierarchies.

  • Health inequities put disadvantaged groups at further disadvantage with respect to health, diminishing opportunities to be healthy.

  • Health equity, an ethical concept based on the principle of distributive justice, is also linked to human rights.[2]



Will this framework of human rights help you when providing health care? Why or why not?


Why does health advocacy work sometimes feel like charity?


What are some of the pitfalls of a charity approach to advocacy?






Numerous international bodies and conventions have further reinforced the importance of a rights based approach to health and health care.    

Declaration of Alma-Ata  Health for All

Millenium Development Goals

Canada Health Act

Convention for the Eradication of discrimination against women

Convention on the rights of the child




2. Braveman P Gruskin S. Defining equity in health. J Epidemiol Community Health 2003;57:254–258.

All references for this section