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Health and Human Rights 13/1
Published June 2011
The importance of creating a “culture of human rights” at the community level is typically discussed in relation to warfare and other forms of official violence. Only rarely do health and other key social and economic rights come into view. Yet it seems clear that commitment by national politicians—without which health will not be prioritized over other pressing individual or social imperatives—depends on strong advocacy in communities. The right to health turns out to be a homeostatic function as well as an interdisciplinary one. Among populations most vulnerable to illness, the capacity for effective grassroots action rests on a constellation of approaches that build local capacity not only to deliver health care and other key services, but also, for example, to ensure household financial security, literacy, and access to the vocabulary of health and human rights, including familiarity with the basic documents, and modes of strategic deployment in the local and national political arenas.
The movement to promote such “intersectoral” community-based approaches to health and human rights is still nascent. It includes initiatives established only in the last decade, such as Village Health Works in Burundi, Project Muso Ladamunen in Mali, and the Millennium Villages Project, which works in ten countries worldwide, targeting investments in agriculture, health, education, and business development. Each of these initiatives embeds a different interrelationship between its elements and works with its own cross-section of local and national institutions, but all see the social fabric of health and human rights cutting across several different spheres of endeavor and initiative.
These intersectoral initiatives grow out of the hypothesis, perhaps most fully expressed by the economist Amartya Sen, that such goods as economic growth, community mobilization, formal education, and accessible health care must be community based and interconnected, and that together, rights-based approaches and health can have an impact greater than the sum of their parts.1 This proposition offers a challenging and exciting area for research and action. When intersectoral capacity building is implemented at the community level, are there synergies that do not exist when elements are introduced in isolation? Do they help interrupt the poverty-disease cycle? If such synergies can be shown to exist, how would they be measured?
Assessing the economic and social impact of accessible health care in low-income countries is a complex question and research methods are in their infancy. Other studies are currently underway on the health impact of microenterprise initiatives. When dimensions such as advocacy training in health and human rights are added, these interactions become more complex still. From an operational perspective, community-based initiatives are highly motivated to document and share what they see as the necessary components to pilot and scale up such approaches, but the tools to study their synergistic impact are still in development.
Documenting these approaches to health and human rights—and answering the questions they raise—requires multidisciplinary collaboration between political scientists, education scholars, and researchers on social change and health policy. Health and Human Rights solicits articles on all these topics, exploring the historical trajectory, current status, and future directions of community-based programs to make the intersection of health and human rights a concrete endeavor and not just a normative objective.
1. A. Sen, Development as freedom (New York: Anchor, 2000).
Papers In Press
Europe’s Shifting Response to HIV/AIDS: From Human Rights to Risk Management
HIV, Hepatitis C, TB, Harm Reduction, and Persons Deprived of Liberty: What Standards Does International Human Rights Law Establish?
Gen Sander and Rick Lines
International Human Rights and the Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth
Rajat Khosla, Christina Zampas, Joshua P. Vogel, Meghan A. Bohren, Mindy Roseman, and Joanna N. Erdman
HIV and the Right to Health in Colombia
Corey Prachniak-Rincón and Jimena Villar de Onís
Transforming Policy into Justice: The Role of Health Advocates in Mozambique
Ellie Feinglass, Nadja Gomes, and Vivek Maru
Reproductive Health Policy in Tunisia: Women's Right to Reproductive Health and Gender Empowerment
Nada Amroussia, Alison Hernandez, and Isabel Goicolea
Letter to the Editor: Moving the Debate Forward in Right to Health Litigation
Octavio Luiz Motta Ferraz
Letter to the Editor Response: On the Heterogeneity and Politics of the Judicialization of Health in Brazil
João Biehl, Mariana P. Socal, Joseph J. Amon
Terminal Patients and the Right to Refuse Medical Treatment in Argentina
Martín Hevia and Daniela Schnidrig
Book review: Advancing Global Health and Human Rights in this Neoliberal Era
Harvard FXB Health and Human Rights Consortium Student Essay Competition:
Human Rights, Law and Abortion in El Salvador
Lessons from Jonathan Mann: The Ten Commandments on Multidrug-Resistant TB
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