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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 233
April 8, 2006

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World Health Day

Right to health is a right to life

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

7th April is the World's Health Day and its observance by member-states including Bangladesh is a reminder that good health of population is wealth for the nation.

Health has always been a valued possession, as shown by the numerous ancient religious injunctions to preserve health through a variety of means. It is considered the most valuable thing in life. The Millennium Poll, a huge worldwide survey prepared for the Millennium Report of the Secretary General of the UN revealed that health consistently ranked number one in the things men and women desired in life.

Health has been historically been valued as a good in its own right. Ancient armies of Alexander the Great depended on their physicians to maintain them effective and some of the great conquests were not due to paucity of arms but the effects of ill health.

Right to health is a right to life in terms of Article 3 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Rights. It is a fundamental right. The 1972 Bangladesh Constitution declares in Part II that the state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties in Article 18 and Article 15 makes the “fundamental responsibility of the state” to make provision for the basic necessities of life including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care for the people.

World Health's Organisation (WHO) has a slogan “Health for All” running for years to signal all member-states that a healthy population should be the aim of all nations.

It has to be remembered that children's health is tomorrow's health. The investment in child health is a direct entry point to improved social development, productivity and better quality of life.

Care for the child's health starts even before conception, through postponement of first pregnancy until mother herself has reached full physical maturity and through spacing of births.

The romantic image of the mother isolated with her child in a closed, loving, caring circle does not reflect the true situation in developing countries. It is of no use to recommend to use safe water if none is available or to suggest boiling water to make it safe if there is no money to buy fuel to do so. Practical advice must be given to the mother and caring communities in which mothers live.

On the World Health Day, it is an appropriate occasion to highlight that good health of the population has multiplier effects on society and economy and some of the impacts deserve mention in the following paragraphs:

At one stage health used to be viewed as an end product of the growth process but the new thinking that health enhances economic growth supplements and to a degree realigns ideas of justifications of spending on health, justifications that are based on humanitarian and equality arguments.

Healthy population is an engine for economic growth. Empirical evidence suggests that the effect of the provision of adequate calories on population has had impact on the productivity of those in workforce. Health should be seen as a form of human capital and therefore an input into the growth process. Countries with healthy populations are in a better position to prosper.

There is a demographic nexus between health and population growth. A successful demographic transition from high to low fertility depends on in large part on improvement in health. A fall in child mortality results in a fall in fertility with fewer children and therefore parents are likely to invest more in the education of each child. Rising life expectancies mean that there is a longer time in which to reap the benefits of investments in education.

Health is a productive asset. Healthier workers are physically and mentally more energetic and robust, so they are less likely to miss work due to illness, either of themselves or their families. The US National Health Survey in 1938 found that families with an income below of $1,000 per year had nearly four times as much disability than the families with incomes of $5,000. They are more productive and earn higher wages and in directly they attract foreign investment in the country.

Health and success in education are also clearly linked. Healthy children are able to learn better, and they become better-educated and higher-earning adults. In a healthy family, children's education is less likely to be interrupted due to their ill health or the ill health of their family.

Health and poverty is inter-linked. A heightened concern for the health of the poor is founded on the knowledge that across the world ill health disproportionately afflicts poor people. Causes of greater ill health among the poor are manifold and interrelated. Poor nutrition, for example, weakens body's defences against infection. Ill health imposes a higher level of risk on the poor than on people with more assets.

Health is inter-linked with inequality. All human beings are equal and should be treated as such. In developing countries such as Bangladesh, income inequality determines access to medical care. In such countries income protects against many of the causes of diseases. It is the poverty that leads to inequality. It is poverty that leads to absence of access to medical care because poor has to choose between food and medical care with scanty income. The poor cannot afford to spend money on seeing a doctor and buying medicines.

The importance of economic and social factors in the health and welfare of people strengthens the argument for a comprehensive programme for healthy population across the world. The interrelationships involved make it abundantly clear that the public health programme cannot be planned in a vacuum. Since it is a multi-disciplinary programme

All government agencies and non-governmental organizations are to be involved in the health programme.

It is imperative that for the health administrator to develop a comprehensive successful health programme, inputs from experts among others on agriculture, on industry, on economy and on education are to be obtained to integrate a health programme as a part of a larger total programme of social reconstruction and progress of people in the country.

Finally, the Human Development Index, introduced in 1990 by the UN, reflects achievements in three most basic human capabilities that are represented as health, education and incomethe three pillars of human development.

The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.


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