Claire E Brolan and Peter S Hill, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Australia
In a Satellite Session that commenced the 8th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH) at the Tivoli Congress Center in Copenhagen on Monday evening 9th September 2013, the Go4Health international research consortium celebrated the launch of its first report, “Realizing the right to health for everyone: the health goal for humanity” (for a full copy of the report, see here).
Go4Health is comprised of 13 civil society and academic institutes from the Global North and South, and is tasked with reporting to the European Union on health’s positioning in the post-2015 global development agenda. Beginning in 2012, it is a 3-year interdisciplinary research project led by the Institute of Tropical Medicine’s health and human rights specialist, Gorik Ooms.
Gorik informed the audience and those watching a live webcast of the Denmark-based launch, that the Go4Health report proposed the post-2015 development agenda include a single overarching health goal, the realization of the right to health for everyone, with two targets, universal health coverage anchored in the right to health and a healthy social and natural environment. He argued that the content of the three ‘umbrella’ post-MDG health goals presently before the global community – “Maximising Healthy Lives” (proposed in the April 2013 report by the UN’s Global Thematic Consultation on Health led by UNICEF and the Governments of Botswana and Sweden), Ensuring Healthy Lives (proposed in the May 2013 report by the United Nation’s (UN) High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development) and Achieving Health and Well-being at All Ages (proposed in the June 2013 report of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network which was launched in August 2012 by the UN Secretary-General) – could be reconciled if united under one comprehensive right to health goal. Gorik stated the right to health, already widely found in international law (and entrenched in many national laws), was advantaged by the legal onus of “shared responsibility” it placed on nations to progress its implementation.
Lisa Forman (Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Canada), then provided the audience with a comprehensive list demonstrating where the right to health had been found in international law since 1946. She agreed with Gorik that the right to health’s minimum core obligations could further act as a potent accountability tool supporting developing countries to call higher-income nations into account in the new post-2015 era, as “minimum core obligations are not only placed on states acting domestically but implicate the duties of richer countries to provide international assistance and cooperation”. Albrecht Jahn (Institute of Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Germany) then discussed how the new health and development goals could overcome the contemporary fragmentation of the global health landscape by moving from (and including) the three current disease-oriented health MDGs to the needs-based concept of comprehensive universal health coverage, complemented by a healthy environment. Thus, health has a cross-cutting dimension beyond any specific health goal. In my presentation I supported Albrecht’s call (which was also presented by the Go4Health team in a January 2013 WHO Bulletin editorial), but further highlighted the need to integrate and articulate a health and human rights agenda in the interconnected (and therefore intersectoral) sustainable development goal agenda, which would likely be the focus of post-2015 debate (particularly between and among the Member States) in the coming 12 months.
The launch’s key message – that the right to health is the logical, comprehensive, and unifying post-2015 health and development goal – was then powerfully completed by Walter Flores (Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems, Guatemala) in his presentation, and reaffirmed in the Opening Plenary session the next morning by Go4Health’s Sameera Hussain (James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Bangladesh). Both Walter and Sameera highlighted that the emerging findings from Go4Health’s Work Package 2 community consultations with marginalized communities (consisting of communities – so far – from nine countries within the Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Australia-Pacific regions) on their health and development expectations – essentially evidenced that the health wants, needs and priorities of people around the globe – who are most likely to be affected by the post-2015 development goal agenda – in fact mirror the principles of the right to health. That is, that healthcare be adapted to meet communities’ contextual needs; that these needs and expectations go beyond the health sector; and participatory decision-making processes relating to meeting those needs and priorities (through governments genuinely engaging and collaborating with communities) is vital.
Although I am encouraged by the key message of the Go4Health interim report, I also leave Denmark to return home to Australia with some trepidation around its enormity. Essentially, the human rights concepts we are identifying as a research consortium have been around for well-over 40 years – and we must repackage and reaffirm them to the global community once more. However, we do so in a different development era; an era profoundly different to the late 1990s which contextually framed the MDGs. Indeed, now we cannot only progress the right to health goal to and within the global health community, but we must present it to the broader world at large – whose post-2015 interests and agendas will also wholly intersect with the post-2015 health agenda. Moreover, we cannot only connect with UN and multilateral agencies – as were the key players in formulating the MDG agenda over 10 years ago. Now we must connect our message to and with the Member States and importantly their constituents. Certainly, Go4Health has its work cut out for its international team in the next 2 years – mediating where both the right to health possibility and challenges lie.
Go4Health is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (grant HEALTH-F1–2012–305240), the Australian Government’s NH&MRC-European Union Collaborative Grants (grant 1055138), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant: Ethics.
Claire Brolan is a Research Fellow from the School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. She is a member of the Go4Health Work Package 4 team that looks at the Global Governance of Health in the post-2015 health and development agenda. Claire is a social scientist working in the public health sector, and is a health and human rights lawyer.