7 April 2024

On this World Health Day, we call for urgent action to realise the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for everyone, everywhere.

Illustration of a woman wearing a shawl with health and human rights symbols (such as a heart, an umbrella, scales, etc.) and the words "My health, my right"

The slogan of this year’s Health Day, “My Health, My Right,” strongly reminds us that every human being has the inalienable right to physical and mental health — regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Countries have a legal obligation to develop and implement legislation and policies that guarantee universal access to quality health services and removal of financial barriers while addressing the root causes of health disparities, including poverty, stigma and discrimination.

However, for billions of people worldwide, “My Health, My Right” is a promise rather than a reality. Humanitarian crises, including conflicts and natural disasters, are devastating lives, causing death, pain, hunger and psychological distress. Climate change is taking a toll on people’s health, increasing communicable and non-communicable diseases, contributing to deadly weather events, and undermining the environmental and social determinants of physical and mental health. People living in poor and marginalised communities, including women and girls, are the most vulnerable. They often face the highest burden of disease, the greatest challenges in access, including discrimination and stigma, and the worst health outcomes.

The situation is alarming: Half of the world’s population – 4.5 billion people – do not have access to essential health services, and 2 billion face financial hardship when paying for these services. These numbers represent the daily struggle of billions of people who are being deprived of their right to physical and mental health.

As UHC2030 co-chairs, we call on countries to realise the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for everyone, everywhere. Universal health coverage (UHC) grounded in primary health care helps countries realise this right by ensuring all people have affordable, equitable access to health services. UHC means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.

At the UN high-level meeting on UHC last year, countries reiterated their commitment to achieving UHC. It is now time to deliver on these commitments and ensure the right to physical and mental health for all. We call on governments to:

  • Prioritise primary health care (PHC), as it is the most inclusive, equitable, cost-effective and efficient approach to enhancing people’s physical and mental health. PHC can deliver 90% of essential health services, increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030, and save 60 million lives in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Strengthen financial protection by increasing public spending on health, so that everyone can access the health services they need, while minimising out-of-pocket payments throughout their life course.
  • Remove barriers that hinder people from accessing health services by eliminating all types of discrimination, including gender-based discrimination, from national and local health policy frameworks.
  • Embed social participation in decision-making to ensure all people, including groups who may be in vulnerable situations, have a say in the laws and policies that affect their health and well-being and that their needs are addressed.

Health is not a privilege but a human right. We call on governments to work towards UHC to build a basis for ensuring this right. It’s time for bold action that ensures that “My Health, My Right” becomes a reality for everyone, everywhere.

-Ms Gabriela Cuevas Barron and Dr Justin Koonin, Co-Chairs of the UHC2030 Steering Committee 

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