Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2011
In the six decades since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was proclaimed as a ‘common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’, human rights has become the hegemonic discourse for social emancipation around the world. Yet, from its inception the legalism and abstraction of the international framework have posed challenges for local resistance movements who sought to use rights in their social struggles, including struggles relating to health. Further, it has often been difficult to find allies within the health field itself, pervaded as it is by the paternalism of clinical medicine and the utilitarianism of conventional public health.
It is only in the last fifteen years or so that countries have seen a proliferation of rights-based movements for health. All of these health rights movements share a common focus on issues of equality and non-discrimination, accountability and participation by the people whose lives are affected by health programmes. A central notion across all rights-based approaches to health lies in converting the beneficiaries of health and development programmes into claims-holders who can demand that the state, or other actors, comply with certain obligations.