Governments should recognize health care as a human right, participants say at OSCE PA webinar

COPENHAGEN, 4 June 2021 – Policymakers and experts discussed challenges related to delivering health security to all people in the OSCE area at a webinar held by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly today. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has placed health concerns at the top of the international agenda, participants noted that high-quality health services remain far from universally provided throughout the OSCE area. The global pandemic has served as a reminder that this is not only a question of rights but also a security concern, they said.

Today’s Parliamentary Web Dialogue was held under the auspices of the Bureau of the OSCE PA’s Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, and served as an opportunity for parliamentarians to learn about the UHC2030’s global compact for progress towards universal health coverage. Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Co-Chair of the UHC2030 international health partnership, presented her organization’s work in building national and international commitments to strengthen health systems through multi-stakeholder approaches.

PR health emb imgGabriela Cuevas Barron's address at the web parliamentary dialogue, 4 June 2021“Making progress accessible so that everyone, everywhere is able to exercise the human right to health remains mainly a matter of political will,” said Cuevas. “Ultimately, this is a decision that must be made with leadership.”

Opening the meeting, human rights committee Chair Kyriakos Hadjiyianni (Cyprus) recalled that in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nations of the world committed to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” for all. “It is a promise we have repeated on many occasions since then, also within the OSCE,” Hadjiyianni said. “Yet despite valuable progress, the realization of the right to health continues to elude us.”

He emphasized that until everyone is guaranteed access to needed medical services, no one is truly secure and he urged parliamentarians therefore to utilize available tools to expand access to quality care.

Kyle Knight, Senior Researcher on Health and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a reminder of how critical upholding the right to health care is. “One thing the right to health invites us to do is think broadly,” Knight said. “Yes, it includes protections for accessible, affordable, and high-quality health care. But the right to health is not just about people being able to access a doctor, it also encompasses other factors as well. And each of these factors involves a deep consideration for the context where people live, and the policies that determine their health.”

For people living in poverty and those who experience discrimination, Knight said, the suffering seen during the pandemic is not new, it is just magnified and exacerbated. To remedy this situation, strengthened commitments are needed to improve health care infrastructure, he emphasized.

Francesca Colombo, Head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Health Division, said that an acceleration of the work to achieve universal health coverage is needed in all countries. There must be greater investment to build capacity to ensure health services for all, including in time of crisis, she said. Colombo also emphasized the need to invest more in preventing ill health and building resilience of populations.

OSCE PA Vice-President and human rights committee Rapporteur Kari Henriksen (Norway) also spoke at the event, noting that there appears to be broad agreement on the principle of ensuring health care for all but not as much commitment to action. She emphasized the need to ensure that parliamentarians take necessary action on this issue, noting the importance of protection and prevention, as well as financing of health care. She noted that public officials have duties to protect everyone and highlighted that investing in health care also makes good economic policy as well.

In the discussion, points were raised about trust in institutions being important to ensure access to health care, particularly for vulnerable groups like migrants and refugees. This is particularly true, it was stressed, because people on the move are in more need than others to have good access to health care. Gender aspects of health care access were also emphasized as important.

OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella spoke at the webinar, recalling the central role of parliamentarians in meeting these challenges and expressing his view that international co-operation is essential to find solutions to common challenges.

 

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