Benjamin Mason Meier and Ashley M. Fox
Health and Human Rights 12/1
Published June 2010
This article analyzes the growing chasm between international power and state responsibility in health rights, proposing an international legal framework for collective rights — rights that can reform international institutions and empower developing states to realize the determinants of health structured by global forces. With longstanding recognition that many developing state governments cannot realize the health of their peoples without international cooperation, scholars have increasingly sought to codify international obligations under the purview of an evolving human right to health, applying this rights-based approach as a foundational framework for reducing global health inequalities through foreign assistance. Yet the inherent limitations of the individual human rights framework stymie the right to health in impacting the global institutions that are most crucial for realizing underlying determinants of health through the strengthening of primary health care systems. Whereas the right to health has been advanced as an individual right to be realized by a state duty-bearer, the authors find that this limited, atomized right has proven insufficient to create accountability for international obligations in global health policy, enabling the deterioration of primary health care systems that lack the ability to address an expanding set of public health claims. For rights scholars to advance disease protection and health promotion through national primary health care systems — creating the international legal obligations necessary to spur development supportive of the public’s health — the authors conclude that scholars must look beyond the individual right to health to create collective international legal obligations commensurate with a public health-centered approach to primary health care. Through the development and implementation of these collective health rights, states can address interconnected determinants of health within and across countries, obligating the international community to scale-up primary health care systems in the developing world and thereby reduce public health inequities through global health governance.