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Health systems and the right to health cover

Health systems and the right to health: an assessment of 194 countries

Gunilla Backman et al.
Publication year: 
Source of the information: 
The Lancet


60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundations for the right to the highest attainable standard of health. This right is central to the creation of equitable health systems. This paper seeks to identify some of the right-to-health features of health systems, such as a comprehensive national health plan, and proposes 72 indicators that reflect some of these features. The author primarily aims to assess the degree to which the health systems of 194 countries include these features.



  • People with mental illnesses are frequently neglected and discriminated against, and this might lead to inadequate financial provision for mental health
  • Only 54 countries had more than 90% of their rural population with access to clean water and only 115 countries had more than 90% of their urban population with access to clean water
  • Recognition of the right to health in international treaties, national constitutions, and other statutes would give rise to a legal obligation for countries to ensure that their health systems have certain features.
Recommendations/ Conclusions include:
  • Donors should accelerate their coordinated efforts to provide training and technical assistance for sustainable data collection and processing and to make data available worldwide.
  • Effective coordination is needed between different sectors and different health services.
  • Appropriate national and international human rights bodies should monitor whether or not a country has a comprehensive national health plan conforming to the agreed criteria.
  • Attention should be devoted to establishing accessible, transparent, and effective mechanisms for monitoring and accountability of health systems and the right to health.
  • All those sharing the common ground between health and human rights should deepen their dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration.
  • Health ministries and national human rights institutions need to meet and talk, and UN organisations must routinely discuss health and human rights issues.