UNC hosts inaugural address in Health and Human Rights Lecture Series

For some, “human rights” and “public health” might seem like buzzwords pulled from a sign in the Pit. But a new campus collaboration is trying to show just how important the intersection of those ideas is to the global community.

Monday marked the inaugural address in the UNC Health and Human Rights Lecture Series with a visit from Sofia Gruskin, director of the Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the University of Southern California.

The lecture series is the brainchild of Benjamin Meier, a public policy professor at UNC. The Department of Public Policy, the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and the Center for Bioethics are contributing a total of $10,000 over five years to sponsor the annual series, aimed at bringing a diverse campus together.

“I think there was a recognition that human rights have a crucial role in developing global health,” Meier said. “The goal was to … bring together faculty and students from different disciplines to talk about human rights.”

Meier was complimentary when he talked about Gruskin’s importance to the fields of public health and policy, saying that her work “set the path” for the progression of research.

Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the global health institute, seemed equally excited when he introduced Gruskin to a crowd of about 300 people in the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Auditorium.

“(This event) is way beyond anything I’ve done in 30 years here,” he said.

Gruskin talked in detail about her work with governments of various nations. She primarily focused on the way that data on health is needed to affect human rights policies and vice versa, as current policies can be ineffective.

“The rhetoric of rights is present (in many nations) … but their translation into anything actable is weak or entirely absent,” she said.

Gruskin said that such data is especially necessary as governments grow more conservative.

The United States in particular, she said, needs more evidence to change policy, because the country hasn’t ratified human rights treaties that are accepted by every other developed nation.
“We don’t have the evidence in language that speaks to people who are immediately unsympathetic.”

Senior biology major Kelly Burgess said she thought Gruskin had good ideas about what steps to take to raise awareness to the issue.
“She raised some good points about why we should care about human rights when we talk about public health,” she said. “I think that’s something a lot of people don’t think about when they talk about human rights.”

Gruskin ended with a call to action on one simple premise: shared humanity.

“We need to realize the right to health for every human being, no matter who we are and no matter where we live.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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