Global Health is Everyone’s Responsibility and Human Right

Alex B. Hill | June 9th, 2009 | No Comments

(photo credit: WHO)

(photo credit: WHO)

From the UN Declaration to Amnesty International, between Paul Farmer and William Easterly it seems that everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes a basic human right and the cause of its absence. Michael Keizner has been building the discussion on health and human rights on Change.org’s Global Health blog while NYU Professor, William Easterly has recently entered the debate as a response to Amnesty International’s position on poverty related to human rights. This fueled a response from Amnesty International, which stated that Easterly was “pretty off base.” Easterly followed his Amnesty International response with an end to his “human rights trilogy” by asking Paul Farmer who should be held responsible for satisfying the right to health care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states health as a human right as:

“the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…”

It seems that Easterly’s human rights criteria is trapped in an old international law paradigm where there must be someone at fault or someone to blame. He also forgets that health is directly linked to food. You cannot have good health and not have food. Effective aid, not seen in today’s aid schemes, based in sustainable practices (not just buzzword reporting) that supports an individual’s right to develop themselves should look comprehensively towards the needs of a community of individuals. The ideas of human rights, foreign aid, and development should be less focused on international systems and more focused on building strong communities that meet their own human needs: health care, food, water, etc.

Within this debate of health and human rights, where does SCOUT BANANA fit. As an organization that makes and stands behind the statement that:

“global health is everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right”

Paul Farmer has the right idea, as Easterly quotes from his Tanner Lecture in 2005:

“only a social movement involving millions, most of us living far from these difficult settings, could allow us to change the course of history….troves of attention are required to reconfigure existing arrangements if we are to slow the steady movement of resources from poor to rich—transfers that have always been associated… with violence and epidemic disease… whether or not we can say “never again” with any conviction—will depend on our collective courage to examine and understand the roots of modern violence and the violation of a broad array of rights, including social and economic rights”

This is exactly similar to SCOUT BANANA’s understanding of health as a human right and a responsibility. It is a right where we do not attempt to place blame or hold the past accountable because those become frivolous exercises that produce no results. When we delve deeper into the root causes of issues, for example the driving forces of slavery, we must focus on a responsibility to not repeat the past and make ourselves accountable in the future.

There is no way that the entire European population and its descendants can be held accountable for the evils of the slave trade. While the same ideas of human rights did not exist in the time period of slavery, it is similarly difficult to place blame on systems (and populations) that drive the causes of poverty and lack of access to health care. Many people that I work with on development projects feel guilty that they are so privileged and wealthy compared to the communities that they work with that are so poor. SCOUT BANANA teaches its members to not feel guilty, but instead to feel responsible. Understanding personal privilege related to the oppression of certain populations within societal structures can assist in creating positive impacts. Human rights don’t necessarily have to be about placing blame, but rather developing an understanding of responsibility.

So Professor Easterly when you ask who is responsible for satisfying human rights: it is you, it is me, it is all those who dream of making a difference, and it is also those who lack the very human rights that we hold dear. Placing blame is not a concrete step forward, learning from history and recognizing where our privilege fits can be a first step towards effective actions. I too see Paul Farmer’s vision of a movement of millions, near and far, taking actions to shape a better future where human rights are everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right.

From the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

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Categories: Health in Africa

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