Making the case for human rights in global health education, research and policy.

Published: June 1, 2011


If the 2010 CPHA conference is a bellwether of mainstream Canadian public and global health practice, its dearth of human rights papers suggests that, outside a small scholarly cohort, human rights remain marginal therein. This potential ‘rights gap’ conflicts with growing recognition of the relationship between health and human rights and ergo, the importance of human rights education for health professionals. This gap not only places Canadian health research outside the growing vanguard of academic research on health and human rights, but also ignores a potentially influential tool for achieving health equity. I suggest that human rights make a distinctive contribution to such efforts not replicated within other social justice and equity approaches, making human rights education a crucial complement to other ethical training. These contributions are evident in the normative specificity of the right to health in international law and its legally binding nature, in the success of litigation, the successful advocacy for AIDS treatment and the growing adoption of rights-based approaches to health. Canadian academic and research institutions should take up their rightful place within health and human rights research, education and practice globally, including by ramping up human rights-oriented education for health professionals within Canadian universities.

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