• Sara Schoenfeld

The Right to Healthcare: How to address inequality within this basic human right

The Right to Healthcare is a basic human need and generally includes the right of all people to access to quality medications, vaccines, medical equipment and facilities, as well as medical expertise and information.

This right falls within the category of human rights which helps people to avoid poverty and improve their standard of living. In essence, these rights refer to the right of all people to access goods and services necessary to meet the most basic human needs. Other rights in this category include access to food, water, housing, and electricity.

International trade is a key driver in meeting these basic needs in both developed and developing countries. This connection is clearer in developing countries where efforts to improve the standard of living is often centered on poverty-reduction and facilitating access to basic goods and services – food, water, medicines, vaccines, electricity, etc. Developed countries are less likely to focus on the close relationship between trade and a given standard of living until a disruptive event.

The recent pandemic disrupted global healthcare systems and supply chains at massive levels, highlighting both the importance and complexity of the Right to Healthcare.

The Right to Healthcare Disrupted: The basic need for quality healthcare

Back in 1946, the Right to Healthcare was included in the preamble of the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution:

“[T]he enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Our understanding of the “highest attainable standard of health” is a moving target which often includes access to quality medications, vaccines, medical equipment and facilities, as well as medical expertise and information.

Today, the Right to Healthcare is a key component of achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3), “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

Unfortunately, updated UN statistics illustrate just how far we are from meeting SDG 3 and facilitating quality healthcare for all. The COVID 19 pandemic continues on, and has had quite drastic effects on our global healthcare systems (which already had so much room to improve).

Goals of universal health coverage are far off course, with rising out-of-pocket health expenses pushing millions into extreme poverty. The pandemic has interrupted important global childhood immunization efforts and increased risks of rising maternal and child deaths, as well as illness and death from other communicable diseases. The pandemic has also revealed a global shortage of medical personnel and high inequality across the global healthcare system.

The pandemic has brought a collective responsibility to apply lessons learned to the broader healthcare industry and supply chain.

Looking to the future, we must develop healthcare systems and supply chains which facilitate equal and optimal healthcare for all. While this goal may sound fantastical, the global community can achieve this aim by…

Collectively addressing inequality. At the height of the pandemic (and beyond), inequality in care was apparent even within a single city, where treatment plans, medical expertise, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or novel medications varied based on hospital or clinic. This unfortunate truth can be extrapolated from city to city, state to state, country to country.

With all of our technological capabilities, why isn’t global healthcare more streamlined and optimized? The answer is vastly complex. The global trading system is overwhelming – with new disruptions and challenges each day, and the healthcare system is notoriously complex and difficult to reform.

Nevertheless, with a renewed energy and focus, we can (and must) drive innovation, knowledge-sharing and technological advances to provide better and more equal healthcare all over the world. Innovation and technology may enable targeted sharing of leading knowledge such as novel treatments and other cutting-edge expertise which may not be available locally.

Furthermore, the practice of adjusting old processes to meet today’s needs has hindered the speed of progress. We must focus on regulatory flexibility and faster, semi-automated processes to increase flexibility, resiliency, automation and innovation at both the governmental and corporate levels.

Deriving resilient supply chains to support healthcare needs of the world. Supply chain resiliency has been front and center throughout the pandemic. Access to essential goods such as vaccines and medications underlies all efforts to facilitate quality healthcare.

Looking to the future, when working towards quality healthcare for all, we must work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive and expansive view of global risks and resiliency, taking into consideration the dynamic needs of both developed and developing countries. Only then can we support the healthcare needs of the future.