November 18, 2022
Washington, D.C. — “When the history of the COVID-19 pandemic is written, the failure of many states to live up to their human rights obligations should be a central narrative…We propose embedding human rights and equity within a transformed global health architecture as the necessary response to COVID-19’s rights violations.” That is the message of a new article published in The Lancet co-authored by Lawrence O. Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, and his colleagues Eric A. Friedman, Sara Hossain, Joia Mukherjee, Saman Zia-Zarifi, Chelsea Clinton, Umunyana Rugege, Paulo Buss, Miriam Were, and Ames Dhai.
The authors analyze the global extent of rights violations that have pervaded the pandemic and offer recommendations on ways to construct an equitable global health and human rights architecture that advances health security and justice moving forward. They argue that this reimagined and strengthened architecture centered on human rights would “enable a swift, effective response for the next time a novel or emerging infection threatens the globe — honoring the dignity of each of us.”
“While many countries have undertaken laudable efforts to protect human rights and marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the global human rights picture has been a dark one, with violations throughout the spectrum of rights,” said Lawrence Gostin. “Yet, we can paint a brighter future. It is within our power to develop the laws and mechanisms, and provide the funding and expertise, to make the narrative of the next pandemic one of honoring human rights and restoring human dignity. We will be far healthier and safer if we do. Just as important, we will be a fairer, more equitable world if we safeguard the right to health.”
Some key recommendations for incorporating human rights into health emergency preparedness and response, and a global health architecture include:
- Developing substantial and advanced vaccine development and manufacturing capacity in all regions, including mRNA vaccine technology, to enable rapid, universal, equitable distribution of variant-specific and other COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
- Establishing global standards and mechanisms to increase funding to strengthen health systems and enable social protection during health emergencies.
- Adopting a pandemic treaty that integrates human rights throughout, such as mandating full participation of marginalized populations in health emergency response planning and protecting them from discrimination.
- Negotiating and adopting a Framework Convention on Global Health, a new treaty on the right to health aimed at health equity, that would establish standards and mechanisms for right to health implementation and accountability.
- Establishing a Right to Health Capacity Fund that would finance right to health advocacy. It could prioritize community-based organizations and have a community-led and civil society-led governance structure.
- Adopting a World Health Assembly resolution that incorporates key measures to implement the right to health, including right to health assessments and health equity programs of action.
The authors agree that had these measures been in place before COVID-19, “its inequities would have been far less, vaccine hesitancy lower, health systems better prepared, masking and physical distancing greater, and vaccine distribution faster and more equitable than they actually were.”
Gostin emphasized that even as much of the world is moving on from COVID-19, the pandemic is still with us, and inequalities in health must be addressed.
“It would be unconscionable to move on from both the vast inequities in access to vaccines and other medical resources during COVID-19, and from the longstanding health inequities within and among countries that were greatly exposed during the pandemic,” added Gostin. “Measures like integrating equity and human rights into a new pandemic treaty are absolutely necessary. But we must go further still and create new legal tools and mechanisms to end the health equities that have long plagued our societies.”
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