Advancing the right to health: the vital role of law. New report

Sugar tax in Mexico. Salt limits in South Africa. Plain packaging in Australia. National health insurance in Ghana. Mandatory motorcycle helmets in Vietnam. Health care in the United States of America. They’re just some of the hundreds of examples of the vital role the law plays in safeguarding and promoting good health around the world.

A new report entitled Advancing the right to health: the vital role of law from the World Health Organization, in collaboration with the International Development Law Organization, the University of Sydney and Georgetown University in Washington, DC, describes the myriad ways in which the law makes a crucial difference for public health. The report features case studies from around the world on how the law has improved the health and safety of populations, providing a resource for countries to learn from the experience of others.

The right to health is enshrined in WHO’s constitution, which affirms that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human. WHO provides assistance to countries that are seeking to use the law to improve their health systems, and to address health threats.

Health laws often make the headlines when they have a direct impact on the everyday consumption patterns of people, such as Mexico’s so-called soda tax, introduced in 2014 to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. In the same vein, Australia’s plain packaging laws for tobacco products have become a global standard-bearer in the effort to reduce smoking rates.

But countries also use the law in many unseen ways to strengthen health systems and help make progress towards universal health coverage. Some countries use laws to create the institutions that govern the health system, such as national health insurers, or the agencies that regulate medicines, or those that ensure quality health services are available to all people.

The law will be a vital tool for countries to make progress towards the health-related targets in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report is available free of charge and can be downloaded here:  http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/252815/1/9789241511384-eng.pdf

As of 17 January 2017, a video of the launch is also available here 

Photo: Stacie Bee/Flickr, Some Rights reserved. Edited by SID