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).

Expert Commentaries

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Ghana: The role of Parliament

After adopting the International Conference on Population and Development’s 1994 Programme of Action1 and the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa2, how has Ghana fared in realizing access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHRs)? International and regional human rights law enshrines […]

Legal Instruments

Reproductive Health Policy

The purpose of this Policy & Strategy document is to outline policy statements of the Ministry of Health in support of Reproductive Health including maternal and neonatal health, demonstrating its contribution to the achievement of improved health and wellbeing in Fiji. It maps out a framework of key strategic areas and activities to be implemented […]

Decreto 32-2010

Esta ley tiene como objetivo la creación de un marco jurídico que permita implementar los mecanismos necesarios para mejorar la salud y calidad de vida de las mujeres y del recién nacido, y promover el desarrollo humano a través de asegurar la maternidad de las mujeres mediante el acceso universal, oportuno y gratuito a información […]

Ley 129

La Ley tiene como finalidad el financiamiento para cubrir los gastos de medicinas, insumos, micronutrientes, suministros, exámenes básicos de laboratorio y exámenes complementarios para atención de la mujer embarazada, recién nacidos o nacidas y, niñas y niños menores de cinco años. Para efectos de la aplicación se requiere del concurso de todas las instituciones que […]

Ley Reformatoria a la Ley de Seguridad Social

Reforma el Artículo 105 de la Ley de Seguridad Social sobre la Contingencia de Maternidad. En caso de maternidad, la asegurada tendrá derecho a la asistencia médica y obstétrica necesario durante el embarazo, parto y puerperio; un subsidio monetario, durante el periodo de descanso por maternidad, en el caso de la mujer trabajadora; y la […]

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

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in India

 Summary:  In January 2012, up to 53 women underwent a sterilization procedure in Bihar, India, at a sterilization camp managed by an NGO which had been granted accreditation by the District Health Society, apparently without following any formal, transparent process. The women had not been given any counseling regarding the potential dangers and outcomes of […]

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 social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development: General Survey concerning the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The ILO’s General Survey 2019 , compiled by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The Survey (published under the title Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development) focuses on the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for basic income security and essential healthcare […]

Neglecting human rights: accountability, data and Sustainable Development Goal 3

In this paper we examine the Sustainable Development Goal 3 through the lens of state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil people’s human rights entitlements. We critique some of the Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “follow-up and review” arrangements for the health goal, SDG3. To assist in this analysis, we draw from a […]

The Gendered Effects of Air Pollution on Labour Supply

Air pollution affects workers’ ability to work by damaging their own health, but also by damaging the health of their dependents. This paper draws on 20 years of air pollution and employment data from Santiago, Chile, a highly polluted metropolis, particularly in fall and winter months. The paper finds that although air pollution does not […]

Mental Health in the Workplace

One in four adults will experience mental health difficulties, yet prejudice and discrimination are significant barriers that deprive people of their dignity. To make dignity in mental health a reality requires every member of society to work together. It requires action in the community and, importantly, in the workplace. Our vision, therefore, is to start […]

Mental Health in the Workplace (Executive Summary and Introduction)

Everyone has the right to decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity. For people with mental health problems, achieving this right is particularly challenging. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) mandate on disability issues is laid down in the ILO Convention concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons No. […]

Adolescents’ Mental Health: Out of the shadows: Evidence on psychological well-being of 11-15-year-olds from 31 industrialized countries

It is the right time to channel more public investment for comprehensive support of children’s and adolescents’ mental health and well-being. Target 3.4 under Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Agenda explicitly aims to ‘promote mental health and well-being’, while the WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020 emphasizes the importance of children “having […]

Social Return on Investment: accounting for value in the context of implementing Health 2020 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Social return on investment (SROI) is a concept to account for social value when evaluating investments. It goes beyond traditional economic evaluation tools, by considering value produced for multiple stakeholders in all three dimensions of development: economic, social and environmental. This discussion paper reviews the main features of SROI (stakeholder engagement, the theory of change […]

Health for All, All for Health: Lessons from the universalization of health care in emerging economies

India stands out among countries with comparable levels of economic development for its rights-based social policies. But rights on paper do not always translate into rights in reality. This case study investigates the genesis of India’s rights-based social policy legislation, its ramifications in the areas of primary education, public health care and income security, and […]

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 […]

Towards Universal Health Care in Emerging Economies: Opportunities and Challenges

This book explores how political, social, economic and institutional factors in eight emerging economies have combined to generate diverse outcomes in their move towards universal health care. Structured in three parts, the book begins by framing social policy as an integral system in its own right. The following two parts go on to discuss the […]

Social Protection and Human Rights