Health as freedom: Addressing social determinants of global health inequities through the human right to development

Bioethics 23 (2):112-122 (2009)
In spite of vast global improvements in living standards, health, and well-being, the persistence of absolute poverty and its attendant maladies remains an unsettling fact of life for billions around the world and constitutes the primary cause for the failure of developing states to improve the health of their peoples. While economic development in developing countries is necessary to provide for underlying determinants of health – most prominently, poverty reduction and the building of comprehensive primary health systems – inequalities in power within the international economic order and the spread of neoliberal development policy limit the ability of developing states to develop economically and realize public goods for health. With neoliberal development policies impacting entire societies, the collective right to development, as compared with an individual rights-based approach to development, offers a framework by which to restructure this system to realize social determinants of health. The right to development, working through a vector of rights, can address social determinants of health, obligating states and the international community to support public health systems while reducing inequities in health through poverty-reducing economic growth. At an international level, where the ability of states to develop economically and to realize public goods through public health systems is constrained by international financial institutions, the implementation of the right to development enables a restructuring of international institutions and foreign-aid programs, allowing states to enter development debates with a right to cooperation from other states, not simply a cry for charity.
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