The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 3rd

Letter: Conceptualizing health as a human right is critical for health reform


[The 11/27] DTH column argued that human rights language is divisive and antagonistic when used during health reform debates. 

Contrarily, I believe there is much to be gained from conceptualizing health as a human right during these debates. Using a human rights framework to structure and evaluate health policy will create a more equitable healthcare system—something we sorely need in the United States.

The U.S. has historically avoided using rights language in healthcare reform. At the same time, our current healthcare system perpetuates healthcare disparities based on income, employment, race and geographical location, to name a few. 

Any reform must prioritize the elimination of these disparities—yet they continue to be overlooked and even accepted in our current system. 

No wonder health policy debates become heated when we begin to ask whose right to health is actually being realized.

A human right to health is more than rhetoric: it is a tool used to place the needs of the most vulnerable populations at the center of health reform. 

It guides reform which “seeks to provide a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of every person. It necessitates conversations about equity and moves us from conceptualizing healthcare as a commodity towards viewing it as an entitlement rooted in dignity and autonomy.  

The DTH column calls for health policy that includes “a range of gray positions,” to move beyond divisiveness and antagonism. I could not agree more. Any reform requires compromise. 

But using “a human right to health” as the scapegoat for ineffective policy debates dangerously misplaces blame: the real culprit is the inequity at the root of our current system. 

Conceptualizing health as a human right calls attention to this fundamental injustice. 

It helps us ask better questions: who holds the power in our current healthcare system? What would a better system look like for everyone? If achieving equitable healthcare for everyone is the goal of our system, then including a human right to health is an effective way to set priorities and guide reform to achieve this goal.

Keely Kriho

BSPH Health Policy and Management 


American Indian and Indigenous Studies

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