Malaria and Human Rights

malaria-rights.jpgDo people have a right to live without malaria? This appears to be a theme that will be addressed at the first Annual Lecture on Malaria and Human Rights sponsored by the European Alliance Against Malaria and the UK Coalition Against Malaria on 10th December 2007. The key speaker will be Professor Paul Hunt, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health defined this human right as “an inclusive right not only extending to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.”

According to the report, Water and the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, by Hunt and Khosla, “The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases is a central obligation of the right to health.” These issues also feature prominently in the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Are the MDGs a ‘Bill of Rights’ to overcome poverty? The nations who signed on in 2000 “committed themselves to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want. They acknowledged that progress is based on sustainable economic growth, which must focus on the poor, with human rights at the centre.” In fact Hunt and Khosla note that the MDGs “cannot be achieved without effective health systems that are accessible to all.

Paul Hunt outlines two broad approaches to promoting the ‘right to health’, the judicial and the policy. “The “policy” approach demands vigilant monitoring and accountability.” This is where research and advocacy is needed. Hunt notes that neglected diseases affect neglected communities, and a rights approach helps spotlight the neglect and form a basis for advocacy.

UNICEF reports on use of this approach in Mozambique. “Malaria represents a significant health problem in Mozambique. Since the late 1990s UNICEF-Mozambique has developed a new strategy to fight malaria through a methodology combining human rights-based approach to programming and community capacity development,” and has used this to guarantee among others the distribution of free ITNs in areas of need. A health rights based approach is therefore, a valuable tool in the fight against malaria.

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