The Right to Health – A Crucial Framework for Responding to COVID 19

Posted on: 22 March 2021 by Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law in Blog

Hospital Ward image by Daan Stevens on Unsplash
Hospital Ward, image by Daan Stevens on Unsplash.

It is now over a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and we have all been affected to a greater or lesser degree by the measures taken to address the spread of this terrible disease.

Image from the ILHRU Guest Seminar Series

The WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 are the international rules governing global health security and aim ‘to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease of infectious diseases’ (Art 2.) The IHR aims to balance public health measures with both trade and human rights considerations and Art 3 states that the implementation of the regulations be guided by the WHO Constitution 1948 which provides for ‘The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health’ as ‘one of the fundamental rights of every human being.’ In addition to the IHR, international human rights law provides a legal framework for a specific human right to health as well as health -related rights (for example under the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966). However, it is true to say that to date, the legal framework for a right to health in regard to the question of public health emergencies such as pandemics has not been addressed in great depth.

As we reflect upon the impact of the pandemic in terms of the restrictions imposed and the effectiveness of the response by states, the question of whether human rights law and specifically the right to health can provide legal guidance in these difficult times has been brought to the fore. With this pressing question in mind, we were very happy to welcome three experts on the right to health and global health law to present their current research entitled ‘The Right to Health: lodestar in the time of COVID-19? Obligations To Realise The Right To Health During A Pandemic Under International Law’ as part of the ILHRU Guest Seminar Series at the University of Liverpool School of Law and Social Justice. Dr Judith Bueno de Mesquita (University of Essex), Dr Claire Lougarre (University of Southampton) and Dr Sharifah Sekalala (University of Warwick) highlighted how the right to health has been at the forefront of the response to COVID 19 but that the legal obligations to realise the right to health during a pandemic require further examination and clarity.

Covid-19 Street Sign, image by Michael Marais on Unsplash

(Covid-19 street sign, image by Michael Marais on Unsplash)

In response, a number of questions and comments from the Discussant, Dr Azadeh Chalabi (University of Liverpool) and Chair, Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley (University of Liverpool) as well as the wider audience, stimulated a lengthy and insightful discussion with the panel around the more controversial obligations to realise the right to health and wider economic, social and cultural rights. In conclusion all involved felt the event had been a huge success in terms of further progressing the panel’s ongoing research collaboration but also in developing knowledge and understanding of the topic and providing inspiration for research.

Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley

Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, Amanda is also part of the International Law and Human Rights Unit.

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