Global Health Equity

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Globalization and Human Rights

A human right to health exists in international law stipulated in a series of treaties; Canada has ratified all the ones with significant health implications. Under international law, primary responsibility for implementation of human rights rests with national governments, although their duties may extend outside their own borders. Generically, ratification means that states are responsible to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights set out in the relevant treaties. The most expansive of these treaties is the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 12 of ICESCR (45) recognizes the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (subsequently, for convenience, the right to health) and to that end mandates that state parties – the countries that have ratified the instrument – provide for maternal and child health; improve environmental and industrial hygiene; ensure prevention, treatment and control of “epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases”; and “create conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”. Of special relevance are other provisions of ICESCR, related inter alia to healthy and safe working conditions; social security; protection and assistance to the family; the right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing and housing; and the benefits of scientific progress. Provisions relevant to health and SDH can also be found in other treaties such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.