Health and Human Rights Symposium

by Kari Vredenburg | USF Student

The University of San Francisco coordinated a symposium on October 6, 2015 that discussed a number of issues regarding health and human rights.

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Oct. 6, 2015 Health & Human Rights Symposium
The symposium focused primarily on the legal framework of health as a fundamental right and brought together four professionals from diverse backgrounds. The first panelist, Dr. Benjamin Mason Meier, introduced the idea that human rights, international law, and public health have a fundamental overlap. Research of national litigation, international treaty bodies, and political advocacy campaigns can facilitate accountability and help us understand how various developments can lead to the implementation of human rights values. He emphasized the importance of creating a pool of common data from multi-sectors to better understand the role of human rights in national policy.

Dr. Ana Ayala followed with similar ideas, discussing how the law is a fundamental tool for solving critical health problems. Through research, capacity building, and scholarship, her organization strives to bring the health and human rights community together and to provide a starting point for further research and practice. A defined right to health creates opportunity, and there is a need in modern society to measure the impact of human rights standards.

Dr. Marco Tavanti expanded upon the previous discussion by introducing the complexity of indigenous populations. He advised that we must always consider indigenous dignity and recommended the use of sustainability as a transferable framework across cultures. His conclusion was that oftentimes the health community sees the problem and immediately goes to work finding a solution. But instead, we need to focus on the middle step of reflection and analysis and should include various cultural viewpoints.

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The panel concluded with a discussion by Dr. Marcus Powlowski who introduced the idea that the use of “right to health” as a tool can be a complicating factor when attempting to improve the health of populations. The legal frame requires the justice system to also monitor health, a possible barrier in developing countries with corrupt judicial branches. However, he acknowledged that rights are simply a social construct. We choose what to become and there is no reason to not accept the right to health. If we believe in this concept and include it in the enforcement of our policies, the problem then resides with the government and the public can hold them accountable for the enforcement of this right.

Overall, I found the discussion to be extremely interesting and found the spectrum of opinions to be extremely powerful. As public health officials work to improve the health of populations around the world, research around the legal framework of health should be considered. Human rights frameworks have proved successful in the implementation of various interventions, and the health community should learn from other forms of human rights accomplishments if they wish to best utilize the data that exists for overall health and human rights improvements.

Watch the symposium »