World Health Day: WHO calls for action to uphold right to health

World Health Organization

April 6, 2024

To mark World Health Day (April 7), the World Health Organization is running the “My Health, My Right” campaign to champion the right to health of everyone, everywhere.

The campaign advocates for universal access to quality health services, education, information, safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.

All around the world, the core challenges consistently compromising the right to health are political inaction coupled with a lack of accountability and funding, compounded by intolerance, discrimination, and stigma.

Populations facing marginalization or vulnerability suffer the most, such as people who live in poverty, are displaced, are older, or live with disabilities.

While inaction and injustice are the major drivers of the global failure to deliver on the right to health, current crises are leading to especially egregious violations of this right. Conflicts are leaving trails of devastation, mental and physical distress, and death.

Situation worsening for two decades

The burning of fossil fuels is simultaneously driving the climate crisis and violating our right to breathe clean air. The climate crisis is, in turn, causing extreme weather events that threaten health and well-being and strain access to services to meet basic needs.

Everyone deserves access to quality, timely, and appropriate health services without discrimination or financial hardship. Yet, in 2021, 4.5 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, were not covered by essential health services, leaving them vulnerable to diseases and disasters.

Even those who do access care often suffer economically for it, with about 2 billion people facing financial hardship due to health costs. This situation has been worsening for two decades.

To expand coverage, an additional  200–328 billion dollars a year is needed globally to scale up primary health care in low- and middle-income countries (i.e., 3.3 percent of national forecast GDP). Progress has shown to be possible where there is political will. Since 2000, 42 countries, representing all regions and income levels, succeeded in improving health service coverage and protection against catastrophic health spending.

Integrating human rights into health policies

“Realizing the right to health requires governments to pass and implement laws, invest, address discrimination, and be held accountable by their populations,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “WHO is working with governments, partners, and communities to ensure the highest attainable standard of health, as a fundamental right for all people, everywhere.”

The right to health is enshrined in the WHO Constitution, and at least 140 countries recognize it in their national constitutions. However, recognition alone is insufficient, so WHO supports countries in legislating the right to health across sectors and integrating human rights into health policies and programs.

This support aims to make health services available, accessible, and responsive to the needs of the populations they serve and to increase community participation in health decision-making.

Improving access to healthcare services

On World Health Day and beyond, WHO calls for governments to make meaningful investments in scaling up primary health care, ensuring transparency and accountability, and meaningfully involving individuals and communities in decision-making around health.

Recognizing the interdependence between the right to health and other fundamental rights, the campaign includes calls to action on finance, agriculture, environment, justice, transport, labor, and social affairs.

Individuals, communities, and civil society have long defended their right to health. By breaking down barriers and advocating for equity, they have improved access to healthcare services. WHO urges the public to know, protect, and promote their health rights, including safe and quality care, zero discrimination, privacy and confidentiality, information, bodily autonomy, and decision-making.


Main Photo: Health worker Kaim K. tests 6-month-old Muhammad for malaria in Naseerabad, Pakistan, on March 14, 2023. [WHO/Panos Pictures/Saiyna Bashir]