Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics | October 9, 2014Read the Publication
In the absence of centralized human rights leadership in an increasingly fragmented global health policy landscape, regional health offices have stepped forward to advance the rights-based approach to health. Reviewing the efforts of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), this article explores the evolution of human rights in PAHO policy, assesses efforts to mainstream human rights in the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PASB), and analyzes the future of the rights-based approach through regional health governance, providing lessons for other regional health offices and global health institutions. This article explores PAHO’s 15-year effort to mainstream human rights through PASB technical units, national capacity-building, the Inter-American human rights system, and the PAHO Directing Council. Through documentary analysis of PAHO policies and semi-structured interviews with key PASB stakeholders, the authors analyze the understandings and actions of policymakers and technical officers in implementing human rights through PAHO governance. Analyzing the themes arising from this narrative, the authors examine the structural role of secretariat leadership, state support, legal expertise, and technical unit commitment in facilitating a rights-based approach to the health in the Americas. Human rights are increasingly framing PAHO efforts, and this analysis of the structures underlying PAHO’s approach provides an understanding of the institutional determinants of the rights-based approach to health, highlighting generalizable themes for the mainstreaming of human rights through regional health governance. With this regional-level understanding of health governance, future national-level research can begin to understand the causal forces linking regional human rights work with national policy reforms and public health outcomes.