Global Health, Rights and Justice

There is an ever-expanding conversation occurring in global health circles and amongst human rights advocates regarding the right to health.1 The foundation for this was laid in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Especially relevant in this regard is Article 25 (1), which states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”2 Article 12 of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized, “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”3

However, in an article in the Lancet in 2008, Amartya Sen, (author of Development as Freedom) and Nobel Laureate, posits three questions; “First, there is what we might call the legal question: how can health be a right since there is no binding legislation demanding just that? Second, there is the feasibility question: how can the state of being in good health be a right, when there is no way of ensuring that everyone does have good health? Third, there is the policy question: why think of health, rather than health care, as a right, since health care is under the control of policy making, not the actual state of health of the people?”4  But Sen points out that while historically human rights were seen as a “child of law,” (Jeremy Bentham in Anarchical Fallacies) there is also a long tradition of thinking of rights in terms of social ethics: what a good society must have. Taken from this point of view human rights become the “parent of law” 4

There is an equally robust discussion occurring regarding global health and justice.5 Is it just that in one of the most natural resource rich countries of the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, we find some of the worst health indices anywhere in the world? That in this country access to clean water in rural communities is only around 30%? That use of improved sanitation facilities also rests at 30% (rural and urban combined). Is it possible for anyone to live a healthy life in a country where the GNI is $220?

The world needs to hear from the Christian faith-based community. Human flourishing requires spiritual engagement to empower the conscience of health systems.6 Some questions we would like to see addressed are:

  • How do we discern the goals and principles we can embrace in partnership with multilateral, governmental organizations and secular NGOs?
  • How is the concept of human dignity and freedom different than the framework of human rights?
  • Is the global Church demonstrating a reproducible and transformational model for how people can live a healthy life in community?
  • What is the faith community's role in advocating for accountability across all sectors towards optimizing access to quality, affordable local healthcare services, and promoting sustainable healthy environments among the most vulnerable populations?
  • What are the latest research investigations into protecting vulnerable populations from exploitation, trafficking, and inequality?
  • What are examples of programs and best practices that do justice, love mercy, and practice humility in the promotion and protection of human health?

Besides regular submissions of original research, we are seeking articles that help address these and other related questions from a biblically informed and experiential point of view. We need to hear from those who are doing something to address these critical issues and to be a voice for justice in the healing of nations.  

Deadline for this special issue is 31 March 2019


  1. World Health Organization. Human rights and health. Fact Sheet [Internet]. 29 Dec 2017. Available from: http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-rights-and-health
  2. United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights [Internet]. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
  3. United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [Internet]. Available from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx
  4. Sen A. Why and how is health a human right? Lancet. 13 Dec 2008;372(9655):2010. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61784-5
  5. Ruger JP. Global health justice and governance. American Journal of Bioethics. Dec 2012;12(12):35-54. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2012.733060
  6. Brown GT. The way of the gospel, health care, and religious freedom. Public Justice Review. 5 July 2017;3. Available from: https://www.cpjustice.org/public/page/content/pjr_hhf_5_The_Way_of_the_Gospel_Health%20Care_and_Re