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On World Health Day: Recognizing a Right to Health Beyond Universal Health Coverage in Latin America 

From agreements recognizing "rights to the city" to innovative and integrated policies, cities in Latin America have made great strides towards promoting a human right to health beyond healthcare coverage.

Posted on April 7, 2018
Dancing in Bogota Colombia

By Katy Indvik, MSc

Today, World Health Day 2018 “Health is a Human Right,” we join in celebrating progress and reaffirming commitments to improving human health across the globe with the goal of achieving universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere. At the same time, we reflect on a growing focus in many Latin American cities on the right to health as more than a right to healthcare or health coverage. 

The integration of health as a human right within national legal frameworks represents a critical step toward guaranteeing the highest attainable standard of health  for all, and the international community has agreed that public institutions must assume an explicit responsibility for ensuring access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality. The right to health has been incorporated within national constitutions across Latin America; nevertheless, universal health coverage alone does not guarantee the fulfillment of this right in all of its dimensions, and national policies, plans and programs can incorporate an expanded accountability for the multiple aspects and determinants of human health and well-being. 

The New Urban Agenda made history by formally recognizing the concept of the right to the city, defining a vision of inclusive cities used and enjoyed equally by all and, specifically, where all individuals are able to inhabit and produce healthy cities and human settlements. Many local governments and civil society organizations across Latin America have embraced the right to the city as a powerful concept, commitment and strategy for promoting cross-sectoral policies, plans and programs for urban development. In this context, a human-rights-based approach to urban health allows for a shift in focus towards the inclusion of the diverse underlying social and physical determinants of health within the city; acknowledging the need for accountability, transparency, participation, and equality within public institutions and programs; and recognizing health and well-being as the realization of multiple rights throughout a lifetime. Within the Latin American context of social, political, economic and geographic diversity, rapid urbanization, and extreme inequalities, this expanded understanding of health as a human right has begun to gain traction.

From innovative policies, technologies and interventions for sustainable urban transport; to international efforts to address the need to transform the systems surrounding the way food is produced, marketed and consumed; to neighborhood restoration initiatives that integrate diverse social and physical aspects influencing health and well-being (such as public safety, education, housing infrastructure, connectivity, green spaces, etc.); to institutes that support national and city-level plans to mitigate climate change and improve air quality; to recommendations for reshaping housing models and markets to promote slum upgrading and alleviate housing deficits and in this way improve well-being and quality of life; to networks working to improve urban health by strengthening institutions and promoting participation, transparency and accountability between elected authorities, local organizations, and community members–each of these initiatives acknowledges the link between the social and physical dimensions of urban development and human health and well-being in urban areas.  

The explicit commitment and collaboration of the international community to achieving universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere represents an important, coordinated global objective and effort. Nevertheless, cities and communities in Latin America and around the world are setting examples that suggest that universal health coverage is only one element of health and well-being. Multi-sector and multi-level efforts should integrate a broader understanding of the human right to health beyond health coverage by identifying and addressing diverse health determinants and developing integrated policies to guide urban development and create inclusive, safe, resilient, sustainable, and healthy cities and human settlements.  


This post was written by Katy Indvik, Policy Officer for the SALURBAL Project as a contribution to
Cities, Sectors, and Health, run by SALURBAL. To contact the blog or learn more about the SALURBAL project email 



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