Abstract – Making health an imperative of foreign policy: The value of a human rights approach

Flavia Bustreo and Curtis F. J. Doebbler

Health and Human Rights 12/1

Published June 2010


“[For] . . . the happiness of the people and the power of the country . . . [t]he care of the Public Health is the first duty of a statesman.”

— Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain1


Health is increasingly seen as relevant to foreign policy; nevertheless, it remains subordinate to other interests. In particular, the interests of security and economics are often presented as more critical than health. This is due to a failure to sufficiently recognize the legal obligations that states have undertaken to ensure the human right to health. This article argues that health should be an imperative of foreign policy, equally valid, and prioritized in resource allocation. We suggest application of the human rights approach with attention to the legal duty of cooperation and the necessity of ensuring broad participation. We suggest that the human rights approach to health can contribute to achieving this result and is compatible with, and beneficial to, other foreign policy concerns. Finally, we conclude that the human rights approach to health requires that health be an imperative in foreign policymaking processes.