Intercountry Training of Trainers workshop on Human Rights-Based and Gender Sensitive Approaches to Health Programmes

Dr Samlee Plianbangchang
Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia

(Delivered by Dr Prakin Suchaxaya, Coordinator (GER), WHO/SEARO)

23-25 September 2013, Bangkok, Thailand

The World Health Organization and the United Nations system as a whole, have always promoted human rights. The Charter of the United Nations, adopted in 1945, sets forth human rights as one of its overarching purposes. The WHO Constitution also declares that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” is “one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Since the coming into force of the WHO Constitution, the World Health Assembly, which is the governing body of WHO, has adopted several resolutions on the linkages between human rights and health. The main international declarations on health, the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978 and the World Health Declaration of 1998 reaffirmed health as a fundamental human right.

Successful examples of the use of the right to health in programming and evidence of the value-added to health-related development can be found in the context of HIV. The public health response to HIV was the first instance in which the relationships between health and human rights became apparent, and observations can be drawn from this that may be useful to further strengthen the integration of human rights and development.

In 2010, the World Health Assembly recognized "that the significant gains made in prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS need to be sustained and expanded for Millennium Development Goal 6 to be achieved, which is combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, including the urgent need to strengthen targeted prevention measures and achieve universal access to antiretroviral treatment, within a framework of respect for human rights, gender equality, and the reduction of stigmatization and discrimination."

This close interrelationship also means that human rights and health-related policies and programmes have a great potential to be mutually reinforcing in the realization of health-related development and the right to health. It is important for people working on health development to respect, understand and implement the human rights-based and gender-sensitive approach to people who need health care services.

At WHO, human rights have gained momentum at the operational level since the 1990s. Within the last decade, human rights are increasingly seen as essential elements of development work. In 1997, in the context of the UN reform, the Secretary-General of the United Nations urged the UN to fully integrate the human rights with the organization’s activities. Within the UN system as a whole, there is now a common understanding on a human rights-based approach to development cooperation. Many UN agencies have embraced the human rights-based approach in their work, establishing policies and programmes for its advancement.

There has been increased attention to economic and social rights, including the right to health. A milestone in the promotion of the right to health was issued by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2000. The General Comment clarified the contents of the right to health, and is a valuable tool for WHO and many other promoters of the right to health.

The human rights-based approach is employed in a number of programmes and projects within WHO headquarters, WHO’s regional offices and at the country level. The Gender, Equity and Human Rights Team at WHO headquarters coordinates the Organization’s gender and human rights work. At the regional and country levels, WHO supports governments in the implementation of the human rights-based approach to health development. WHO provides human rights orientation to ministries of health and to national human rights commissions. We publish advocacy material on health-related human rights, and develop tools for the further implementation of the approach.

At all levels, WHO cooperates systematically with the UN human rights mechanism. WHO facilitates country visits of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. WHO also works with the United Nations human rights treaty bodies, which monitor the implementation of human rights treaties.

WHO sees human rights as an important and deeply meaningful framework for health development. Health is not only an economic imperative, but a value in itself. But how can we ensure that all stakeholders hold health in such high regard? In the human rights-based approach, the value of health is derived from internationally agreed human rights conventions. By ratifying human rights agreements, governments have expressed their will to respect, protect and fulfil the rights provided by the human rights treaties. All countries in WHO’s South-East Asia Region have ratified at least one human rights convention which recognizes the right to health.

In order to promote ethically sound public health policies, it is important that health facilities, goods and services are provided in an equitable, accountable and transparent manner. Health development should benefit everybody, especially those who are most vulnerable. Attention to human rights will, thus, benefit public health objectives. Local participation in public health planning creates a sense of ownership, which enhances the efficiency of public health programmes.

I am confident that this workshop will help us promote gender and human rights in health development. I thank all participants for attending this workshop and our colleagues from UNAIDS and the WHO country offices for their support. We would also like to convey our sincere gratitude to the organizers for the excellent arrangements.