3.3 Defining the right to health

It is important to understand what is meant by the right to health. It is not the same as the right to be healthy because good health is influenced by many factors that are outside the direct control of the State, such as an individual’s genetic make-up.

The right to health is generally associated with the provision of health services and facilities. This includes access to immunisation programmes, maternity care and oral rehydration. It also depends on the availability of doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals. These provisions are obviously very important, but the right to health extends much further. Health is dependent on many other factors, and it is just as important to address these other factors if children are to realise their right to health.

Activity 3.1: Children’s rights relevant to health

Look at your copy of the UN Convention and list all the Articles you think might be relevant to a child’s right to health. Think about health very broadly and try to identify at least 10 Articles.

Compare your answers with the list at the end of the study session.

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In Study Session 1 you learned how rights are interconnected and this is true for health as for all other rights. Health cannot be realised without these other rights being fulfilled, such as safe water, an adequate standard of living, housing and education, freedom from violence and discrimination, and access to information. For example:

  • HIV/AIDS is a condition that needs medical treatment. However, its impact on a child’s life extends far beyond its medical implications. Children living with HIV/AIDS can face orphanhood, hunger, discrimination and exclusion from school, all of which will impact on the child’s health and well-being.
  • A baby born to a mother with no education has a much higher chance of dying than one born to a mother with a higher level of education. This difference is not simply because of lack of access to health care. It arises because other fundamental rights are not being fulfilled. The low status of both women and children means that they are not always listened to when they say they are in pain or in need of treatment, often with a negative impact on their health.

If the right to health is not fulfilled, this will prevent the realisation of other rights. For example, if a child is sick and cannot access the treatment she needs, this will prevent her from going to school. Physical and mental health enables children to learn, play and participate fully in society.

3.2 Learning outcomes

3.4 Unpacking Article 24, the right to health