Upcoming Special Sections

All issues publish general papers in addition to Special Sections


VIEWPOINTS: Health Inequities and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 








VIEWPOINTS: Health Inequities and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

Although far from over, 2020 will surely be remembered as the year the world could no longer ignore the social and political determinants of health. COVID-19 has starkly exposed truths long known by people belonging to minority ethnicities or populations – they experience worse health than others, and the impact of crises, health or otherwise, is far greater on them. The experience of racial discrimination demonstrates the inter-relatedness and indivisibility of all human rights: discriminate against a person in respect of any one human right, there are health consequences.

Equality and non-discrimination are central principles in human rights conventions that articulate the right to health, including ICESCR, CRC, and CEDAW. The Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defined discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, restriction, preference, or other differential treatment that is based on prohibited grounds, including “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

But in this moment, we invite contributions that examine racism, racial discrimination and health specifically. We encourage submissions that examine these issues not just as a matter of social injustice, but also as a human rights failing. We hope authors will explore intersectionality and how engagement with human rights will not just present an analysis of the current climate and how it has failed minorities everywhere in the world, but also how human rights mechanisms of accountability could be used for redress. We encourage authors to examine how the Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been used to address racism and its pernicious impact on health in conjunction with other mechanisms of redress and accountability.

We welcome Viewpoints from activists, human rights defenders, and scholars, to reflect on their experiences and their research into race, health inequities and human rights. Viewpoints may engage COVID-19 and its impacts on race – or explore any other public health issue.

We hope this space contributes to connections between different disciplines and the multiple actors within each. It provides an opportunity for health inequities to be viewed through the lens of CERD, which entitles all human beings to be treated equally before the law and protected against any discrimination. The Covenant also acknowledged and condemned colonialism and its associated practices of segregation and discrimination.

Submissions should be between 1000 and 1500 words, with numbered references. See full details here. Viewpoints will be given expedited review and will be published online, and a selection will be published in the December issue. Please submit to hhrsubmissions@hsph.harvard.edu. The call is now open, and will remain so throughout this year.



Big Data, Technology, Artificial Intelligence, and the Right to Health

Guest Editors:  Carmel Williams and Sara L. M. Davis

Data-driven technology has, for the past few decades, been changing our world in irreversible ways. The combination and interdependence of the internet, the neoliberal agenda, and globalization, has resulted in a new economy, dependent on data that is owned by ever more powerful global conglomerates. Data and metadata generated as individuals use their social media apps, conduct internet searches, monitor their fitness via wearable tech, navigate, bank and shop online, and send emails and text messages are collected, stored, and owned by tech giants and other large non-state agencies. Big data sets provide analysts with the opportunity to detect larger patterns among seemingly disparate user groups. Companies can sell, share, or use the data worldwide for commercial and political purposes, about which individual users of these services may have no knowledge. The data and services may transcend national borders, and the largest tech giants have revenues greater than most countries in the world, which is contributing to shifting global power dynamics. At the same time, states are integrating their own huge administrative data sets, collected from their various state agencies about people living in the state, resulting in far more in-depth information about people’s lives and interactions with the state and others than ever before.

Analysis of data and mathematical modelling for algorithms are essential components of artificial intelligence, and these new approaches to data are increasingly shaping health. From surveillance mapping to mobile phone apps these new technologies are being woven into diagnostic and therapeutic services at many levels. These new technologies and tools offer amazing advances in health care, and could contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. But they also raise equity and other human rights concerns.

The use of user-generated data for surveillance (including for public health), political, and commercial purposes has attracted attention from human rights and humanitarian law scholars concerned with privacy and security rights, or threats to democracy, while also generating interest among activists and scholars seeking to use big data for accountability and social mobilization. But the link between new technologies and the protection of economic, social and cultural rights has not attracted enough scrutiny, despite the risks posed by the global reliance on data and the way new technologies are changing power relations between states and the private sector. Social rights protection raises fundamental questions such as future access to the benefits of technology and science, and access to social systems including health care; about the cost-effectiveness, financial and otherwise, of such technologies in weak health systems; and about how stigmatised and hidden communities may be either made more invisible by data-reliant health technologies, or conversely, may be targeted for discrimination, abuse or violence. Big data and digital health can offer solutions to social rights fulfilment too, including through identifying health disparities, inaccessibility, and discrimination.

This special section aims to explore how the uses of data, technology, and artificial intelligence, interact with human rights at the individual and community levels as well as its specific use within public health and health care.

Papers on this topic could address human rights aspects of these issues through an examination of:

  • country-focused case studies examining the impact of big data on the right to health, including prevention and treatment
  • data-driven technology as it impacts on health systems and health rights
  • gender equality, vulnerable communities and discrimination in new digital technologies
  • digital surveillance and data use on access to and trust in health systems
  • participation, non-discrimination and accountability within data collection, ownership, analysis, as it pertains to health
  • use of big data to monitor public health, disease, and epidemics
  • artificial intelligence and health decision-making.

Health and Human Rights Journal is a peer-reviewed, open access journal under the editorship of Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer. It is published twice yearly by the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, in partnership with the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, with new issues released in June and December. There are no publication fees unless authors can use open access publication grants.

Submission details

  • Papers must be submitted by 15 August 2020
  • Papers have a maximum word length of 7,000 words, including references.
  • Author guidelines are available on the website: http://www.hhrjournal.org/submissions/author-guidelines/.

Questions about this special section can be directed to Carmel Williams, Human Rights, Big Data and Technology project, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, and Executive Editor, Health and Human Rights Journal, williams@hsph.harvard.edu, or Sara Davis (Meg), at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland, sara.davis@graduateinstitute.ch





Ecological Justice and the Right to Health

Guest Editors: Hope Ferdowsian, Mike Anastario, and Kris Weller

Increasingly, public health perspectives emphasize the link between ecological wellbeing and population health outcomes. One example is the One Health Initiative, which aims to promote interdisciplinary collaboration between those working in human medicine, veterinary medicine, environmental conservation, public health, governmental affairs, and international development in order to address the risk of global public health threats including changing climate conditions and zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential. Numerous patterns of exploitation illustrate how the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet are interconnected.

Similarly, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals implicitly recognize the association between the degradation of ecosystems and the potential negative impacts on social, physical, and political determinants of health such as access to clean air and water, healthy soil and food, and adequate shelter. Various multilateral agencies, including the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Health Organization, have also committed to addressing environmental health risks. Nonetheless, these and other global organizations and international development frameworks generally neglect the relationship between ecological justice and the right to health, and the impact of economic and environmental trade-offs on growing inequities. Despite an urgent need to address interlinkages between the health of people, animals, and the environment, too little attention has focused on the connection between rights and health in this context.

Socio-historical forces including colonization, neoliberal international development strategies, private-public partnerships, and the consolidation of global conglomerates, have presented environmental challenges with wide-ranging impacts on rights and health, particularly for those at the economic and environmental margins. The hegemonic reach of modern agriculture in food, textile, and commodity production has become one of the largest planetary and public health threats to current and future generations.

It is now widely acknowledged that health risks are situated amid changing climates and environmental degradation, with extreme temperatures and weather patterns, poor air and water quality, and food insecurity contributing to violence and diseases of epidemic and pandemic proportions. Ongoing threats to social and cultural rights aggravate pre-existing health disparities particularly for Indigenous populations, people of color, ethnic minorities, and people living with disabilities.

Citizens, grassroots organizations, activists, and scholars are working toward holistic and creative solutions that acknowledge the relationship between ecological justice, rights, and social determinants of health. However, the peer-reviewed literature has thus far seldom addressed the interconnectedness of these issues, particularly in ways that consider the relationships among legal, economic, and political frameworks and health. Original research contributions are particularly lacking in the aforementioned areas.

This special section aims to explore the conceptual and practical connections between ecological justice and the right to health. Of particular interest are papers that go beyond locating and describing problems to identifying leverage points for changes that could enhance the rights, health, and wellbeing of the most vulnerable stakeholders.

Papers on this topic could address human rights aspects of these issues through an examination of:

  • country-focused case studies on the impact of environmental policies on the right to health, including prevention of mental and physical illnesses associated with environmental degradation
  • consistency across multi-lateral agencies, with respect to communication about and implementation of environmental guidance that affects health and human rights
  • disproportionate effects of environmental degradation on the rights and health of vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on children and adults dependent on familial, community, or institutional supports, and their caregivers in these environments
  • intersections between social and environmental justice that impact the right to health
  • relationships between the legal, political, and economic treatment of animals and the natural environment, and health and human rights
  • how international frameworks such as the One Health Initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals address, or could better address, the right to health
  • the potential influence of expansive rights frameworks, including other than human rights, on human health outcomes

Submission details

  • Papers must be submitted by 31 March 2021
  • Full papers have a maximum word length of 7,000 words, including references. We also invite Perspective Essays of up to 3000 words, including references, on this topic.
  • Author guidelines are available here.

Questions about this special section can be directed to Carmel Williams, Executive Editor, Health and Human Rights Journalwilliams@hsph.harvard.edu, or Hope Ferdowsian, at the Phoenix Zones Initiative and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, hrf@phoenixzonesinitiative.org or hferdowsian@salud.unm.edu.




Health Rights and the Urgency of the Climate Crisis

Guest Editors: Gillian MacNaughton and Carmel Williams

The world is facing an existential crisis. We now have less than 10 years to implement radical policy reform to keep global warming below 1.5oC, or we face catastrophe.[1] Tinkering around the edges of policy, as has been done over the past 10-20 years is insufficient, and has kept us on a path to warming the world by 3-5oC by the end of the century. What is needed now, to protect health, life, and human rights, is an economic overhaul that will halve global emissions by 2030, and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This requires a complete transformation of our economies, distribution of resources, energy production, food production, and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.[2] At this moment of multiple interrelated crises, there is also opportunity. A new global economy must be founded on fair and legitimate principles and standards. Human rights can drive the changes needed and the resulting new order. With human rights at the heart of economic reforms, the unsustainable and grossly inequitable world of today can be turned around.

The climate crisis has been looming over us for decades. Yet, little action has been taken to address it. This paralysis is largely due to inequalities both within and between countries. High-income countries with great power have contributed most to climate change as their economies are based on fossil fuels and their global economic dominance has resulted in high rates of CO2 emissions. Those in power within high-income countries benefit from the current economic arrangements and so these countries use their power to maintain the status quo. Middle- and low-income countries that have contributed far less, if at all, to CO2 emissions do not feel any obligation to reduce emissions until they reach the level of development of high-income countries. So there is a stand-off.

The global response to the 2008 financial crisis demonstrated the extremely negative impacts – on the health and well-being of communities, families and individuals – of ignoring human rights in formulating and implementing the policy responses. More recently, the COVID-19 crisis is illuminating the potential of global action to address an even greater threat – to our health and economies. State mobilization of resources, including the private sector, families and individuals, to address the COVID-19 crisis has shown that massive changes to state-supported infrastructure, health systems and social protection are possible when there is widespread understanding across the population of the threat as well as the measures necessary to address it. States around the globe have taken actions that are having huge impacts on the global economy because the health threat was immediate for high-income countries, as well as middle- and low-income countries.

But climate change is an equally devastating crisis. And the impacts are increasing each year. What can we learn from the response to the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 threat that we can use in responding to climate change? How can we ensure that the trillions of dollars spent on reactivating economies around the globe will decarbonize it as well? What norms and standards do we apply in formulating short-term and long-term responses to the impending climate crisis?

Human rights, including the right to health, offers a legitimate, cohesive and effective legal and ethical framework for action on climate change.

This special section explores the meaning and application of a human right-based approach (HRBA) to climate change. It invites health rights scholars and practitioners to address an HRBA to climate justice under the four subtopics: (1) indivisibility, interdependency and interrelatedness of human rights, (2) vertical and horizontal inequalities, (3) transparency, participation, and accountability, and (4) economic and social rights.

  1. Indivisibility, interdependency and interrelatedness of human rights: Crises, whether COVID-19 or climate change, demonstrate the impossibility of addressing human rights via vertical single-issue responses. Fulfilling people’s economic and social rights, especially the right to health, is dependent upon freedom to move, freedom to participate in decision making, and access to information, food, water and sanitation. Crises require holistic human rights responses.
  2. Vertical and horizontal inequalities: Crises emphasize vertical and horizontal inequalities in each society. Those most disadvantaged have the least resources to draw upon when impacted by a large scale emergency. The financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 have demonstrated these unequal impacts on health rights across populations.
  3. Transparency, participation, and accountability: In times of crisis, people need leaders they can trust. They need to know their voices are heard, that decisions are made and conveyed openly, and that there is a process of holding leaders to account for those decisions. People who are the most marginalized and vulnerable to health rights violations, Indigenous people, those with disabilities, children, women, those living remotely, must all be included in responses so they are not left even more unequal.
  4. Economic and social rights: Crises impact differently on the rights to health care, decent work, education, housing, water, sanitation, family life, culture and science. COVID-19 has challenged enjoyment of all of these rights and responses to these challenges have varied tremendously across countries and local communities. Climate change will similarly impact all human rights and consideration of health rights requires deep consideration of how to ensure protection of all rights.

Submission details

  • Papers must be submitted by 31 March 2021
  • Full papers have a maximum word length of 7,000 words, including references. We also invite Perspective Essays of up to 3000 words, including references, on this topic.
  • Author guidelines are available on the website: http://www.hhrjournal.org/submissions/author-guidelines/.

Questions about this special section can be directed to Carmel Williams, Executive Editor, Health and Human Rights Journalwilliams@hsph.harvard.edu, or Gillian MacNaughton, Associate Professor of Human Rights, School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, University of Massachusetts Boston, Gillian.MacNaughton@umb.edu.

[1] See the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports: https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/

[2] Ibid, p1