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Health and Human Rights (review)

From: Human Rights Quarterly
Volume 23, Number 3, August 2001
pp. 846-851 | 10.1353/hrq.2001.0029

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Human Rights Quarterly 23.3 (2001) 846-851

Book Review

Health and Human Rights

Health and Human Rights, edited by Jonathan M. Mann, et al. (Routledge: London, 1999), 505 pp.

What exactly is it that human beings need in order to live well, to survive, and to prosper? Whatever it is, far too many times in the history of humankind people have been without that which is essential to their well-being. Human rights and Public Health both address this dilemma and strive for the advancement of human well-being.

The inception of the modern human rights movement is generally linked to the aftermath of World War II and the founding of the United Nations. Its foundation is the internationally promulgated documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Therefore, the human rights movement operates, essentially, from a legal and political perspective by demanding that each individual is equal and deserving of a certain set of fundamental rights for no other reason than that he is a member of the human race. Those in the field of human rights have encountered public health programs that violate individual human rights, such as isolation of aids patients. However, human rights workers cannot deny the impact of health on the individual's ability to exercise his rights.

The discipline of public health has as its objective, "ensuring the conditions in which one can be healthy." With medical knowledge and a scientific perspective, public health aims to prevent disease and facilitate healthy living among populations. Public health workers have often perceived human rights agendas as obstacles to effective policies and programs designed and conducted with the very important purpose of protecting the health of as many members of the population as possible. However, public health studies have demonstrated that societal conditions are determinants for health. So, those in the field of public health have begun to see the relevance of issues such as poverty and inequality, and hence human rights, to public health.

Clearly, human beings can only fully exercise the rights acknowledged to be theirs by the human rights movement if they are healthy. However, human beings can only be healthy if they have rights that are respected. Therefore, the forces of human rights and public health must be joined in order to advance the well-being of all people. It is in the recognition of the interconnectedness and complementarity of public health and human rights that this book has its basis.

This book is a compilation of previously published articles selected in order to present a "comprehensive introduction to the new and burgeoning field of human rights and health." Thirty separate selections, written by a number of authors whose names will be familiar to any student of human rights, make up Health and Human Rights. They cover a range of topics from "Disabled Persons and Their Rights to Equal Treatment: Allowing Differentiation While Ending Discrimination," to the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial. However, they are grouped in a way that makes it easy for a reader to get a hold of several of the major issues relevant to the intersection of human rights and health and tackle some of the intricacies of each. Health and Human Rights is divided into six main parts: Human Rights and Public Health, The Impact of Health Policies and Programs on Human Rights, Health Impacts Resulting from Violations of Human Rights, Exploring the Inextricable Linkage Between Health and Human Rights, Medicine and Human Rights, and How to Proceed from Concept to Action.

Part I, "Human Rights and Public Health," lays the ground work for the rest of the book by providing the reader with an overview of the concepts on which the book is based. The first chapter, "Health and Human Rights," is particularly useful in that it sets-up a straightforward framework that assists the reader who is just beginning to examine the connection between these two disciplines and on which the reader can rely as later chapters of the book add layers of complexity. Jonathan Mann and his colleagues explain that there are three primary relationships between health...

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