Health officers ethiopia

Social protection systems can help States in complying with their obligations regarding the right to health included under several human rights treaties (such as Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was first recognized in the preamble of the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) and later in the UDHR (Article 25) and the ICESCR (Article 12). More than requiring merely the absence of disease or infirmity or healthcare access; the right to health instead it encompasses the right to physical, mental, and social well-being on all levels. More specifically, the full realization of this right should include the steps necessary for:

“(a)  The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.” (Article 12 ICESCR)

 According to the CESCR’s General Comment No. 14, the right to health is comprised of a set of interrelated and essential elements and principles, namely: availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality, whose precise application will depend on the conditions prevailing in a particular State party. (See adequacy of benefits)

As highlighted in ILO social security conventions and recommendations, access to essential health care is an integral part of social protection. As such has the great potential to contribute to the fulfilment of the human right to the highest attainable standard of health. In this respect, it should be noted that the CESCR has indicated that the right to social security articulated at Article 9 includes the obligation on States to:

“guarantee that health systems are established to provide adequate access to health services for all. In cases in which the health system foresees private or mixed plans, such plans should be affordable, in conformity with the essential elements enunciated in the present general comment. The Committee notes the particular importance of the right to social security in the context of endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and the need to provide access to preventive and curative measures.” (General Comment No. 19, para 13).

Recommendation No. 202 includes, as one of the basic social security guarantees constituting the social protection floor, “access to a nationally defined sets of goods and services, constituting essential health care, including maternity care, that meets the criteria of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality” (para 5a). It further sets out that this guarantee should be defined in a way that “persons in need of health care should not face hardship and an increased risk of poverty due to the financial consequences of accessing essential care”.


Photo credit: “Health officers at a health center in the SNNP Region of Ethiopia” by USAID U.S. Agency for International Development (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).

Legal Instruments

Medical Care Recommendation, 1944 (No. 69)

Together with Recommendation No. 67 and Recommendation No. 69 is at the origin of the development of social security in ILO instruments and can be considered the blueprint for comprehensive social security systems. Together, they establish a comprehensive system of income security and medical care protection for each of the nine classical branches of social […]

Medical Care and Sickness Benefits Convention, 1969 (No. 130)

Convention No. 130 covers both the contingency of medical care benefits and cash sickness benefit reflecting the trend to establish comprehensive health insurance systems. All employees, including apprentices, or at least 75 per cent of the whole economically active population, or all residents whose means do not exceed certain limits should be covered for both […]

Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102)

A reference for the development of social security systems, Convention No. 102 is the flagship of the up-to-date social security Conventions since it is deemed to embody the internationally accepted definition of the very principle of social security.  Convention No. 102 is unique for both its conceptual formulation of social security, and the guidance it provides for […]

Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

Recommendation No. 202 is the first international instrument to offer guidance to countries to close social security gaps and progressively achieve universal protection through the establishment and maintenance of comprehensive social security systems. To this aim, the Recommendation calls for (1) the implementation, as a priority, of social protection floors (SPF) as a fundamental element […]

Legal Cases

Dignity and Autonomy in Enforcing Public Health in Kenya

Nature of the Case Two men successfully challenged their imprisonment, purportedly pursuant to the Public Health Act, for failure to take prescribed tuberculosis (TB) medication. Summary In 2010, Daniel Ng’etich and Patrick Kipng’etich Kirui were arrested by the Public Health Officer, Nandi Central District Tuberculosis Defaulter Tracing Coordinator, who applied to a Magistrate for their […]

Adolescent Sexual Rights in Peru

Nature of the Case In views adopted under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee held the Peruvian government accountable for failing to ensure access to legal abortion services essential to the health of the petitioner, thus violating her human rights. Summary In 2002, the […]

Women and children’s social and economic rights (including health) in Uganda

Nature of the Case The case was brought on behalf of a pregnant woman who died in a hospital while awaiting obstetric care. It considers whether the hospital failed to provide appropriate obstetric care and management, thereby violating her rights as well as those of her surviving children. Summary On May 5, 2011, Irene Nanteza […]

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights in the Philippines

Summary In 1991, the Philippines delegated responsibility for “people’s health and safety” to the local level. In exercise of this power, an executive order 003 (“EO 003”) was issued in Manila, in 2000 which declared that the city would take an “affirmative stand on pro-life issues”. In response to a joint submission from NGOs in […]

Equal access to health and family planning information for all women in Hungary

The communication was filed with regards to the alleged forced sterilization of an ethnic Roma woman by medical staff pursuant to an emergency caesarian section that was required to remove a deceased fetus. The Committee found that previous medical care, the poor medical condition of the victim, A.S., upon arrival at the hospital, short time […]

Access to abortion for poor, disabled woman amid conscientious objection in Argentina

Summary: The communication was filed by the mother of a woman with a mental impairment amounting to a legal age of a child, concerning the response of public health and judicial institutions to her pregnancy resulting from rape.  After being refused by one hospital, a second hospital scheduled an abortion but was later blocked by […]

Duty to prevent discrimination by private health providers on grounds of gender, race or economic status in Brazil

The communication represented the first instance of maternal mortality to be addressed by the international system of human rights, and examined accountability of health provision, in relation to compounding forms of discrimination. The victim was a poor woman of Afro-Brazilian ethnicity. The ethnic, socio-economic and gender factors were widely recognized to be a factor in […]

Application of international provisions concerning maternal health in the Netherlands

In force until 1996, Article 3(a) of “Besluit ziekenhuisverpleging ziekenfondsverzekering” (Decree  on health insurance and hospital care) required personal contributions from women towards the cost of postnatal care. Moreover, according to the explanatory note (“toelichting”) accompanying this Decree, personal contributions would also include postnatal care in hospitals regardless of whether or not this care was […]

Discriminatory, cruel and unusual treatment of refugees for provision of healthcare in Canada

The Federal Court reviewed the effects of changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) in relation to sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pertaining to the right to life, liberty and the security of the person, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and equal of treatment […]


Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health: Realizing Health and Human Rights

How can people’s sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) around the world be better protected and promoted? Watch panellists at this event present perspectives on: Challenges and good practices in ensuring full access to SRHRs Environmental dimensions of family planning The linkages between a human rights-based social protection framework and access to these rights Current […]

WHO QualityRights Guidance and Training tools

As part of the QualityRights Initiative, WHO has developed a comprehensive package of training and guidance modules. The modules can be used to build capacity among mental health practitioners, people with psychosocial, intellectual and cognitive disabilities, people using mental health services, families, care partners and other supporters, NGOs, DPOs and others on how to implement […]

Summary Reflection Guide on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Health: Application to sexual and reproductive health, maternal health and under-5 child health

This quick reference guide intended to contribute to the efforts of NHRIs/IHRICs to effectively and meaningfully implement a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to sexual and reproductive health, maternal health2 and under-5 child health. It complements other tools and builds on the two technical guidance documents of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for […]

Extending Health Coverage to All (China)

Between 2003 and 2013, the number of people covered by the health insurance system in China increased by ten times and has now achieved universal coverage (96.9 per cent of the population). This brief explores China’s experience in extending health coverage.

The Path to Universal Health Coverage: Experiences and Lessons from Japan for Policy Actions

Japan’s health insurance coverage has been receiving great interest from other countries. However, how and why Japan achieved universal health coverage about half a century ago has not been unravelled. This paper aims to analyze Japan’s path to universal health insurance coverage from various perspectives and draw policy lessons for developing countries to attain universal […]

Evidence on gender inequities in social health protection. The case of women living in rural areas

While in many developing countries, urban women have achieved some progress towards equality due to better chances in growing formal economies, rural women are often stuck in harsh living and working conditions in informal economies, e.g. as landless labourers or domestic workers. The objective of this paper is to give evidence of the gender inequalities in social […]

Global evidence on inequities in rural health protection: New data on rural deficits in health coverage for 174 countries

This paper presents global estimates on rural/urban disparities in access to health-care services. The report uses proxy indicators to assess key dimensions of coverage and access involving the core principles of universality and equity. Based on the results of the estimates, policy options are discussed to close the gaps in a multi-sectoral approach addressing issues […]

Universal health protection: progress to date and the way forward

This paper proposes policy options based on ILO research and experiences that aim at universal coverage and equitable access to health care. The policy options discussed focus on ensuring the human rights to social security and health and on the rights-based approaches underpinning the need for equity and poverty alleviation. The paper also provides insights […]

Rapid extension of health protection

This policy brief summarizes the limited coverage of health protection today. It suggests three steps to rapidly extend health protection and achieve universal health coverage that is sustainable and allows for returns in terms of socio-economic development and growth. Link to this page

Addressing the Global Health Crisis: Universal Health Protection Policies

This policy paper: (i) examines the dimensions of the global health crisis based on severe deficits in health protection and limited access to health care; (ii) presents the extent of the health crisis at global, regional and national level as well as rural/urban divergences within countries and their root causes; (iii) suggests policy options to address the […]