Health Systems and Policy Research

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Realizing the Right to Health in the Who African Region: Issues, Challenges and the Way Forward

Motari M and Kirigia JM

Background: The right to health has been enshrined in a number of core international and regional treaties, to which WHO African Region Member States are signatories. This therefore imposes an obligation on them to make every possible effort using available resources to respect, protect, fulfill and promote the right to health of their citizens. The objective of this study was to analyze key issues and challenges affecting the realization of the right to health in countries.

Methods: A survey questionnaire was sent by email to the then 46 Member States in the African Region through the WHO Country Representatives. The questionnaire was filled out on a voluntary basis by senior government officials within the Ministry of Health. The questionnaire elicited information on legal, policy and institutional aspects that affect the realization of the right to health in the African Region countries; and contained some open-ended questions which were aimed at gathering information on what were perceived as main healthrelated human rights issues, and challenges in implementing the right to health.

Results: Twenty-five (54%) countries responded to our questionnaire. The main findings were that all countries were signatories to at least one human rights treaty that recognizes the right to health; all countries had national legislation touching on aspects of the right to health but only 12 countries (48%) had policies or strategies for mainstreaming human rights in healthcare. On issues affecting the realization of the right to health: 88% identified access to health care services, medical products, and technologies; 52% identified inadequate financing for health; 28% cited marginalization, stigma and discrimination of some groups and communities; and 24% cited gender-related inequities and violations. Lack of awareness of the right by the general population and health workers was cited by 52% of the respondents.

Conclusions: A lot remains to be done towards the realization of the right to health
in the African Region. Member States are encouraged to review their legislation
and policies to assess their consistency with human rights standards, and put in
place institutional mechanisms and adequate resources that will ensure their
implementation, enforcement and monitoring.