Health is a human right

WHO Representative to the EU reads article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights


The year 1948 marked the founding of WHO, and this was the same year that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the global community recognizes the 70th anniversary of this pivotal Declaration, which underpins WHO’s work in many significant ways.

The WHO Constitution states, “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”. It further defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being,” and outlines governments’ responsibility for the health of their peoples, “which can only be fulfilled by the provision of adequate health and social measures”. This language served as the inspiration for the development of the human rights language on health included in the Universal Declaration.

The concept of “health for all” as a human right has guided WHO’s work for the past 70 years. The Organization works across many sectors, and from local to global levels, to promote everyone’s right to health: developing water safety plans together with local communities, assessing the quality of institutional care for people with intellectual disabilities, establishing guidelines on air quality, ensuring vaccines are safe and effective, promoting access to HIV treatment, supporting people-centred health system reform, strengthening capacity to address health threats, building health sector capacity to respond to violence against women, implementing a strong legal framework to stop tobacco use, reinforcing the provision of sexual and reproductive health services, and in countless other ways.

Speaking on the occasion of World Health Day this year, WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab said, “Universal health coverage is a simple idea: it means that all people can use quality health services, where and when they need them, without experiencing financial hardship. It is a fundamental human right, a vision that WHO has pursued in partnership with countries since its foundation 70 years ago”.

WHO joins United Nations agencies in Brussels to stand up for human rights

A notable celebration of 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place in Brussels with the inauguration of Enlightened Universe, an art installation representing the common values of solidarity and shared responsibility. WHO, fellow United Nations agencies and European Union (EU) partners came together in late October to formally open the installation, which was first created by Spanish artist Cristóbal Gabarrón in 2015. The installation was on display at the Rond-Point Schuman in the heart of the European Quarter in Brussels.

This event was followed by the European Parliament hosting its first ever Human Rights Week, held on 19–23 November. An interactive United Nations stand shared information about human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. The stand gave Members of Parliament as well as United Nations and EU officials an opportunity to answer the question “what do human rights mean to you?” and sign a human rights graffiti wall.

To further celebrate the anniversary, United Nations agencies in Brussels joined forces to count down to Human Rights Day by having a United Nations representative or staff member read one article of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights each day, for 30 days leading up to 10 December. Leen Meulenbergs, WHO Representative to the EU, read Article 25, which recognizes the right to health.

These readings offer an unmistakable display of the United Nations family’s shared commitment to standing up for human rights, in Europe and beyond. Videos of each article can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Regional Office for Europe.