Series 2, No. 6 (Spring/Summer 2001): Rights and the Struggle for Health

Does it help to think of poverty or inadequate health care as violations of basic rights? The popular conception of human rights is expanding to include economic and social rights, such as the right to health and the right to food. Meanwhile, human-rights campaigners -- such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- have been actively lobbying for economic and social reforms that would enable more people in the world to lead better, healthier, more fulfilling lives. The Spring/Summer 2001 issue of Human Rights Dialogue explores the challenges posed by incorporating the struggle for health into human rights campaigns. There are currently more than 880 million people worldwide who lack access to basic health services, and 790 million who lack adequate nutrition. About 11 million children under age five die from preventable causes. On the face of it, then, tying health to human rights concerns is a mark of progress. Health professionals, policymakers and activists will be compelled to reevaluate their medical practices and health systems, which in many cases means reforming those medical practices and challenging institutional barriers. By the same token, those who are deprived of the basic right to health should feel empowered to argue for access to adequate healthcare. Still, as a number of the essays featured in this issue of Dialogue show, practitioners and activists often face difficulties in finding human rights norms to be of much use in confronting practical dilemmas. The health and human rights movement also raises difficult policy questions, particularly in terms of mobilizing popular support for human rights.

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