Advancing the Right to Health—The Vital Role of Law

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  • Soda taxes to promote healthy behavior; labelling to discourage alcohol abuse; litigation to demand access to health services. Drawing on the World Health Organization’s report, Advancing the Right to Health: the vital role of law, this editorial highlights the many ways in which law can support states in realizing the right to health. Law builds public health infrastructure, and can create conditions to promote the public’s health and safety, including establishing health centered tax policy, altering the informational environment to ensure empowered consumers, developing spaces that enable communities to live a healthy life, and safeguarding rights through direct legislation. Where necessary, legal systems can indirectly ensure the right to health through targeted litigation and complaints. Law can also prove a barrier to health where it entrenches discrimination or stigmatization. Dismantling legal barriers to health can be just as important as enacting evidence-based interventions.
  • While law is a powerful tool, it is most effective in advancing population health as part of an integrated, all-of-government strategy. Furthermore, law requires effective governance, the rule of law, sufficient regulatory capacity, and continuous monitoring and evaluation. Through pursuing greater co-operation and knowledge sharing, law can prove a formidable tool in ensuring the right to health and in achieving the sustainable development goals. We argue for a renewed focus on law to support the mission of public health, strengthen accountability, and leverage results.

Publication Citation

107 Am. J. Pub. Health 1755-1756 (2017)