World Health Day – My Health, my Right

by | Apr 7, 2024

Today´s blog post investigates different dimensions public health involves, in honor of the World Health Day. It also discusses related problematic cases reflecting the imperfect applications, emphasizing the urgency of taking action.

April 7th is celebrated as World Health Day, honoring the anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations (UN) agency specialized in international public health, the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1948. The day aims to remind the importance of the repercussions for global health, with different themes focusing on different aspects of public health each year. This year´s theme, “my health, my right,” draws attention to the right to access health services and other related resources without discrimination. In its scope, it covers quality and accessibility of public health services, education, safe drinking water and sanitation, clean air, nutrition, and safe working environment.

Freedom from Discrimination

lack of financial resources. There is of course the differentiation between various geographical regions and their capacity of providing health care, which is also a result of historical process of imperialism and colonialism, and systematic exploitation depriving some communities from the access of vital resources. But also, it takes place on individual levels based on different dimensions of peoples’ identities such as gender, race, sexual orientation and identity, religion, socioeconomic status (SES) disability or HIV status, age, weight, and many more.

The discrimination towards people living with HIV is reflected with a sample case from Ireland, in which a patient with HIV was refused dental care. Many HIV activists state that this is not an isolated case but a common attitude as a result of misinformation and bias towards people who are HIV positive. Another example of discrimination in accessing health care can be given from the USA, which reflects the racial discrimination and bias towards Black People. In this case, a black woman was refused to be given painkillers because the medical staff thought she was an addict and looking to get them for her addiction. In reality, the woman had a severe medical condition and no history of addiction, but the medical staff was led by the racial bias towards Black People. This case in fact echoes the upsetting facts suggesting Black People and other minorities in the USA are experiencing more illnesses, worse outcomes, and premature deaths compared to white people.

Occupational Health

As most people spend the majority of their time either in their households or working place, the conditions under which people work is a significant contributor in their health. International Labour Organization (ILO – a tripartite UN agency including workers, employers, and governments) works to develop policies promoting better work environment and set standards of labour. ILO Convention on Occupational Safety and Health, 1981 (No.155) is the document setting the ideal conditions for a healthy and safe work environment, emphasizing its effect in physical and mental health on workers with a holistic approach.

Approximately 395 million nonfatal injuries and 3 million work-related deaths have been occurring per year, showing the close connection between the working environment and health. Most of the deaths are caused by work-related diseases such as circulatory, respiratory, neuropsychiatric, and digestive diseases along with cancer and fatal injuries. For reduction of occupational deaths, injuries, and diseases, including promoting and protecting physical and mental health, ILO also published ISO 45001 setting detailed standards for occupational health and safety.

Education & Health

Educational level and health are directly and indirectly related due to many contributors. Using the common health indicators such as infant mortality, life expectancy and child vaccination, the influence of education on health is argued to be linear: In a study focusing on 26 OECD countries with a ten-year duration, it is argued that adults with higher educational levels have better health and longer lifespans than their less-educated peers.

Health literacy is the key to this relationship, meaning the knowledge and skills necessary to understand health information, make informed decisions about their health, and navigate healthcare systems effectively. The relationship between education and socioeconomic status also plays an important part, affecting the employment opportunities and social networks and shaping behavior regarding health.

Clean Air, Water Sanitation, Nutrition

Air pollution, surprising to some, is the biggest environmental risk in Europe, leading to significant number of premature deaths. Although it has been in decrease for some time, it still requires particular attention in order to reduce the mortality rates by augmenting the air quality. To this end, European Commission has adopted the EU Action Plan: “Towards a Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil” aiming to reduce the number of premature deaths to 55% before 2050. Although this is a plan targeting limited geography, people globally would benefit from it. It is especially important to expand this approach in order to reach a higher life expectancy on other continents.

WHO estimates that around 1.4 million deaths per year can be avoided with the improvement of services providing clean water for drinking and sanitation (SDG 3). This situation mirrors with the fact that 88% of diarrhea-related deaths are being attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and insufficient hygiene. This is closely parallel to the discrimination in healthcare, too, as an overwhelming majority of these cases are observed in countries of the Global South. Access to quality healthcare becomes further emphasized in places where the precautionary approach to healthcare is already weak.

The global imbalance of socioeconomic status brings upon the extreme ends of resource accessibility and therefore, consumption. In this regard, not only food supply but also nutritious, high-quality food has a direct relation with health. On the contrary of the vast consumption in the USA, for instance, the research shows that the majority of affordable and practical food is low in nutritional value. It is also stated that minority groups and people with lower socioeconomic status follow a quick and rather unhealthy diet, resulting in obesity, high blood pressure, strokes, circulatory problems, and cancer.

Quality housing, safe and healthy environment

Living in a place where we feel safe and healthy is often given as a precondition of happiness. In the countries who are undergoing a war it cannot be taken as given. War brings loss of life, displacement, infrastructure destruction, economic instability, psychological trauma, social disruption, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, political instability, and global implications. In a region where peace is not the given, the other criteria cannot be fulfilled.

In general, humans need biologically, physically, chemically, and socially safe environment to live both during war and peaceful times. Affordability and stability also contribute to the quality of housing. WHO’s Housing and Health Guidelines provide policy recommendations contributing to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals on health (SDG 3) and sustainable cities (SDG 11).

Know your Health Rights

The WHO recommends Universal Health Coverage to governments to provide equal and affordable access to health care. This requires the healthcare system to be developed with considering availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality. Concepts of medical ethics and consent are also within the people-centered approach to quality healthcare. All humans have the right to quality healthcare without discrimination, ensuring privacy and confidentiality of health information. Although it may take some time before we are able to achieve healthcare accessible to everyone, we still can try to influence policy making processes by creating public pressure, whether it is individual or collective, in the form of civil society.