Sign up for weekly updates

World Health Day: right to information and free expression a "lifeline for right to health," says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 7 April 2011 - A diverse range of challenges to the right to health plagues the world today. Many of these challenges concern the lack of proper protection of the right to information and freedom of expression. On the occasion of World Health Day, ARTICLE 19 calls on governments to protect the right to health, by simultaneously promoting the right to information and freedom of expression through their policies. Lives could be saved if governments properly implement these fundamental rights.

A survey of global health problems in April 2011 reveals the importance of the right to information and freedom of expression - as well as the free flow of information and transparency - for the protection of the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Across the world, but particularly in sub-Saharan African states such as Kenya, a lack of training on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment for medical workers, as well as limited access to current information about HIV/AIDS for the population at large, impedes the realisation of health rights and development goals. The inability to access health related information and, often as a result, voice concerns about health related issues impacts upon women, girls, people with disabilities, refugees and vulnerable groups disproportionately.

The lack of a broad range of health related information for women and girls in Malawi means that they lack the capacity to make better decisions affecting their sexual, reproductive and maternal health.

Insufficient access to health information exacerbates the predicament of refugees in the Middle East, particularly in Tunisia, who currently face inadequate access to medical treatment and overcrowded hospitals.

The non-transparent manner in which global and regional trade agreements are negotiated appears to erode access to information and participation in public affairs of marginalised groups - as well as their right to health. For example, the secrecy surrounding the agreement of the new regional trade agreement in the Pacific region - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement - effectively works against the interests of women and children, and those living in extreme poverty.

The protection of the right to information and freedom of expression is also extremely important during situations of humanitarian crisis. The global nuclear industry and states have been unable to provide clear and understandable information and communication to the Japanese people and the global public at large about the scale and impact of the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, including importantly its impact upon human health in Japan and beyond.

These global snapshots show that the right to information and freedom of expression are relevant for the realisation of the right to health in a number of ways.

People need to know about the scope and content of their right to health, allowing them to assess whether their rights are being respected in the first place. In addition, individuals, as well as states, international human rights authorities (such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), civil society and the media need to be able to monitor and scrutinise a state's implementation of its obligations to protect, respect and fulfil the right to health. People need to be able to voice their concerns about health policies and participate more effectively in democratic decision-making about health issues at the community, national and international levels. And finally, people need to able to claim their right to health and ensure that it is enforced, including through litigation.

The right to health, freedom of expression and the right to information are human rights that are protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, international and regional human rights treaties – including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - and other instruments, as well as the constitutions and laws of states.

In order to realise the right to health, ARTICLE 19 urges states to implement their legal obligations. States should also:

• Protect the right to information and support the free flow of information and transparency through the adoption of specific legislation on the right to information and ensure that health information is accessible subject only to the confidentiality of personal health data;

• Refrain from restricting access to health-related information and services and ensure that third parties do not limit people's access to such information and services;

• Develop health indicators that measure health information and disseminate such information with respect to such issues as HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, traditional practices, domestic violence, abuse of drugs and alcohol, the use of cigarettes and harmful substances;

• Ensure that health-related information and data is reliable, widely available on a non-discriminatory basis, in a range of languages and formats, collected on a comprehensive and regular basis and is used to inform public policy making;

• Ensure that health information and data is disaggregated according to excluded groups of people and underserved areas, with a particular reference to gender ethnicity, urban and rural disparities, upper and lower quintiles, and the prohibited groups of discrimination under international human rights treaties;

• Provide access to age-appropriate information on maternal, reproductive and sexual health and services, including about family planning, pre- and post-natal care and emergency obstetric services, as well as information and education on HIV/AIDS;

• Take positive measures to enhance access to information for vulnerable groups, including women, children and persons with disabilities;

• Support the work of civil society and the media in promoting the right to health by providing an enabling environment for civil society organisations and the media.

Latest Tweet:

Read about Liberian journalist Rodney Sieh and others in recent study highlighting the dangers for Journalists repo…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.