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This article aims to bring changes in the public health community's understanding of essential surgery to the field of human rights. In 2015, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, adopted a resolution recognizing essential surgery as a critical part of integrated primary health care. This reflected a paradigm shift in public health thinking about the provision of essential surgical care, one that aligns with recent data regarding effective mechanisms for targeting the global burden of disease and building health systems. But despite the WHA's declaration, essential surgery continues to be neglected in international organizations' understandings of the right to health. This article argues that the right to health should be interpreted to include a right to essential surgery in order to reflect data-driven research demonstrating the importance of surgery to larger health outcomes.