Some key points:

1. The right to healthcare is a RIGHT not a privilege
2. EVERYONE has the right to healthcare
3. Human Rights can help PROTECT people from POOR healthcare or NO healthcare.

To fully understand the right to healthcare  it must be viewed in the wider context of the right to health:

The right to health is an inclusive right.
It includes a wide range of factors that can help us lead a healthy life. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body responsible for monitoring the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, calls these the “underlying determinants of health”. They include:
Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation;
Safe food;
Adequate nutrition and housing;
Healthy working and environmental conditions;
Health-related education and information;
Gender equality.

The right to health contains freedoms.
 These freedoms include the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment, such as medical experiments and research or forced sterilization, and to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 The right to health contains entitlements including:
The right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health;
The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases;
Access to essential medicines;
Maternal, child and reproductive health;
Equal and timely access to basic health services;
The provision of health-related education and information;
Participation of the population in health-related decision making at the national and community levels.

Health services, goods and facilities must be provided to all without any discrimination.
Non-discrimination is a key principle in human rights and is crucial to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

All services, goods and facilities must be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality.
 Functioning public health and health-care facilities, goods and services must be available in sufficient quantity within a State.

They must be accessible physically (in safe reach for all sections of the population, including children, adolescents, older persons, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups) as well as financially and on the basis of non-discrimination. Accessibility also implies the right to seek, receive and impart health-related information in an accessible format (for all, including persons with disabilities), but does not impair the right to have personal health data treated confidentially.

The facilities, goods and services should also respect medical ethics, and be gender-sensitive and culturally appropriate. In other words, they should be medically and culturally acceptable.

Finally, they must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. This requires, in particular, trained health professionals, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and  hospital equipment, adequate sanitation and safe drinking water.

Taken from:


The following abstracts are included on this page to provide an overview of the main human rights articles which include right to health and healthcare and can act as a helpful starting point for anyone who wishes to learn more.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 12

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

Other International Instruments:

• The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Art. 5 (e) (iv)

• The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Art. 12

• The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Arts. 11 (1) (f), 12 and 14 (2) (b)

• The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: Art. 24

• The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families: Arts. 28, 43 (e) and 45 (c)

• The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Art. 25.

Taken from:

European Social Charter

Art. 11: The right to protection of health
With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to protection of health, the Parties undertake, either directly or in cooperation with public or private organisations, to take appropriate measures designed inter alia:
1. to remove as far as possible the cause of ill-health;
2. to provide advisory and educational facilities fo rthe promotion of health and the encouragement of individual responsibility in matters of health;
3. to prevent as far as possible epidemic, endemic and other diseases, as well as accidents.

See also, Art. 13: The right social and medical assistance
1. to ensure that any peopson who is without adequate resources and who is unable to secure such resources either by his own efforts or from other sources, in particular by benefits under a social security scheme, be granted adequate assistance, and in the case of sickness, the care necessitated by his condition...

European Convention on Human Rights

There is not an explict right to healthcare/health in the ECHR but Article 3 and Article 8 are defined broadly enough to encompass such rights.

Art. 3: Right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Art. 8: Right to respect for family and private life, his home and his correspondence

Human Rights Act (UK)
(The Human Rights Act 1998 gives further legal effect in the UK to the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.)

Art. 3: Right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Art. 8: Right to respect for family and private life, his home and his correspondence

Art. 14: The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.



  1. Healthcare – Human Right or Human Need?

    Some people think that the right to health means that every aspect of healthcare should be covered as a matter of rights. But this attitude changes if we think about needs. Every person has health related needs but not every aspect of that need should be granted to every person as a matter of rights and entitlements.
    A large proportion of health-related needs are a will always remain the responsibility of the person. For example, diet, use of substances, levels of exercise have an impact on our health to a larger extent than health services. In addition many health-related needs are covered by private contracts, insurances and other instruments that do not always imply universal right that impose obligations on the states. This means that the only some of the health-related needs should be fulfilled as a matter of rights.

  2. Some extra information...

    Health and the Right to Social Security

    CESCR, general Comment 19: The Right To Social Security

    (a) Health care
    13. States parties have an obligation to guarantee that health systems are established to provide adequate access to health services for all. In cases in which the health system foresees private or mixed plans, such plans should be affordable, in conformity with the essential elements enunciated in the present general comment.The Committee notes the particular importance of the right to social security in the context of endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and the need to provide access to preventive and curative measures.