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The Right To Health

Article 25 of the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states,

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for

the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing,

housing, medical care and necessary social services

The Universal Declaration

became the basis for a number of human rights treaties binding in international


In 1966 the UN adopted

the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),

which Australia ratified in 1975. Article 12(a) of ICESCR states,

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the

right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest standard of physical

and mental health.

Article 12 also outlines

some of the steps the States Parties must take to ensure this right:

a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of

infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

b) The improvement

of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

c) The prevention,

treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

d) The creation

of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical

attention in the event of sickness.

In August 2000 the

United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reiterated

what this provision of the Covenant requires of countries that have ratified


... health care facilities, goods and services have to be accessible

to everyone without discrimination.

... health facilities,

goods and services must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable

or marginalised sections of the population, in law and in fact, without

discrimination ...

In ratifying ICESCR,

Australia committed itself to progressively realising these rights. Most

importantly, Australia was committed to ensuring that these rights are

guaranteed to all without discrimination, regardless of sex, race, language

or geographical location.

The right to health

is also included extensively in the Convention on the Rights of the Child

(CROC), which Australia ratified in 1990. Article 24 stipulates that every

child has the right to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation

of health. It also stipulates that Australia and the other States Parties,

to ensure every child enjoys the highest attainable standard of health,

must take appropriate measures:

a) To diminish

infant and child mortality;

b) To ensure

the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all

children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;

c) To combat

disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary

health care, through inter alia, the application of readily available

technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and

clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks

of environmental pollution;

d) To ensure

appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;

e) To ensure

that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are

informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic

knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breast-feeding,

hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;

f) To develop

preventative health care, guidance for parents and family planning education

and services.

The Convention on

the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),

which Australia ratified in 1984, also outlines measures that ensure health

services to women. Article 12 of CEDAW states,

1. States parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate

discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to

ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care

services, including those related to family planning.

2. Notwithstanding

the provisions of paragraph I of this article, States Parties shall

ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement

and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as

well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

In 1999 the Committee

on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women commented,

The Committee notes the full realization of women's right to health

can be achieved only when States parties fulfil their obligation to

respect, protect and promote women's fundamental human right to nutritional

well-being throughout their lifespan by means of a food supply that

is safe, nutritious and adapted to local conditions. To this end, States

parties should take steps to facilitate physical and economic access

to productive resources, especially for rural women, and to otherwise

ensure that the special nutritional needs of all women within their

jurisdiction are met.

Image:  Jawoyn women gathering waterlillies


Jawoyn women gathering waterlillies


view the CEDAW Committee's comments on women's health in full click here.