Searching for the Right to Health in the Sustainable Development Agenda; Comment on “Rights Language in the Sustainable Development Agenda: Has Right to Health Discourse and Norms Shaped Health Goals?”

Document Type : Commentary


1 Faculty of Pop Health Sciences, Institute for Global Health (IGH), University College London, London, UK

2 United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Geneva, Switzerland


The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Agenda offers an opportunity to realise the right to health for all. The Agenda’s “interlinked and integrated” Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the prospect of focusing attention and mobilising resources not just for the provision of health services through universal health coverage (UHC), but also for addressing the underlying social, structural, and political determinants of illness and health inequity. However, achieving the goals’ promises will require new mechanisms for inter-sectoral coordination and action, enhanced instruments for rational priority-setting that involve affected population groups, and new approaches to ensuring accountability. Rights-based approaches can inform developments in each of these areas.
In this commentary, we build upon a paper by Forman et al and propose that the significance of the SDGs lies in their ability to move beyond a biomedical approach to health and healthcare, and to seize the opportunity for the realization of the right to health in its fullest, widest, most fundamental sense: the right to a healthpromoting and health protecting environment for each and every one of us. We argue that realizing the right to health inherent in the SDG Agenda is possible but demands that we seize on a range of commitments, not least those outlined in other goals, and pursue complementary openings in the Agenda – from inclusive policy-making, to novel partnerships, to monitoring and review. It is critical that we do not risk losing the right to health in the rhetoric of the SDGs and ensure that we make good on the promise of leaving no one behind.


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