Abstract – Health and human rights in scientific literature: A systematic review over a decade (1999-2008)

Emmanuel Kabengele Mpinga, Henk Verloo, Leslie London, and Philippe Chastonay


Over the past decades, the health and human rights movement has become a public health actor that cannot and should not be ignored when defining public health policies. Little has been published about the scientific contribution of the movement, be it in terms of volume, topics, content, diffusion channels, production, or target sites.

This article aims to characterize the scientific production of articles focusing on “health and human rights” and to describe its evolution over a decade.

A systematic review of the literature was done. The following databases were considered: Medline, Embase, BDSP, Wholis, Saphir, Rero and Web of Science. The analysis focused on English and French contributions published between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2008.

Nine hundred twenty eight articles, published in 377 different journals, were reviewed. Among these articles, 43.7% had been written by one author and 56.3% by two or more authors. Over the studied decade, the production volume increased threefold. Most frequent developed topics were related to health systems (18.3%), mental health (11.5%), HIV/AIDS (10.3%), reproductive health (9.2%). Emerging topics included: the rights of patients (2.7%), new technologies (2.5%), and handicap (2.5%). Studies were classified according to their design in social analysis (42.7%), reviews of the literature (19.8%), qualitative studies (17.9%), editorials (12.5%), epidemiological studies (6.8%).

Most studies were published in public health (34.5%) and biomedical journals (29.0%), while some appeared in social science journals (4.7%). The studies were related to global issues/settings (43.9%) or more specifically to country settings, for example, the United States (9.3%), Great Britain (7.8%), South Africa (3.3%), Australia (3.0%), Canada (2.6%), France (2.3%), and India (1.9%). The authors were mainly from industrialized countries.

The publication of articles on health and human rights issues is increasing, and new topics are being addressed. Yet more evidence-based studies might be necessary to scientifically strengthen the domain.