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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: October 2018

Chapter 1 - General Introduction



Health is indispensable for living a life of dignity. As a matter of necessity, health, and in particular access to health care, are among the top concerns of every human being. As a result, there is a broad consensus that the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (the right to health) is a fundamental human right. The right to health encompasses access to timely and appropriate health care, as well as access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, education, health-related information, and other underlying determinants of health. The right to health care, as one of the key aspects of the broader framework of the right to health, has been enshrined in a wide range of human rights treaties and has obtained considerable legal weight over the past decades.

Currently, there is an almost universal commitment to the right to health (care), as the core conventions incorporating the right to health (care) have been ratified by up to 99% of Member States of the United Nations (UN): of 194 Member States, 166 have ratified or acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (85%); 174 States are party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (88%); 178 States are party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (90%); 189 States have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (96%); and all States but one (the United States of America) are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (99%). Therefore, it can be concluded that all countries in the world have ratified at least one binding treaty that includes the provision of the right to health (care) and it can be stated that the recognition of the right to health (care) has reached near universality.

Furthermore, the growing legal recognition of health as a human right in international law has led to the development of normative frameworks for realising this right, including through General Comment 14, which is an explanatory document to Article 12 of the ICESCR. Although not legally binding, General Comment 14 provides authoritative guidance on how the right to health (care) can be implemented at the domestic level.

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