Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The highest attainable standard: The World Health Organization, global health governance, and the contentious politics of human rights
by Meier, Benjamin Mason, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 320; 3393608
Abstract (Summary)

The human right to health proclaimed seminally in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and codified in the 1966 International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as "the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health"—has become a cornerstone of global health governance. Heralded as a normative framework for international public health, the right to health is seen as foundational to the contemporary policies and programs of the World Health Organization (WHO).

It was not always so.

This dissertation traces the political history leading up to WHO's invocation of human rights for the public's health. With both the UDHR and WHO coming into existence in 1948, there was great initial promise that these two institutions would complement each other, with WHO upholding human rights in all its activities. In spite of this promise and early WHO efforts to advance a human rights basis for its work, WHO intentionally neglected the right to health during crucial years of its evolution, with the WHO Secretariat renouncing its authoritative role in human rights policy to pursue medical care programming. Through legal analysis and historical narrative, this research examines the causes and effects of WHO's early contributions to and subsequent abandonment of the evolution of health rights.

Where WHO neglected human rights—out of political expediency, legal incapacity, and medical supremacy—it did so to its peril. After twenty-five years shunning the development of the right to health, WHO came to see these legal principles as a political foundation upon which to frame its "Health For All" strategy under the 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata. But it was too late. This dissertation concludes that WHO's constrained role in developing and implementing international human rights for health set into motion a course for the right to health that would prove fatal to the goals of primary health care laid out in the Declaration of Alma-Ata.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bayer, Ronald
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-B 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Public health, International law
Keywords: Health governance, Human rights, World Health Organization
Publication Number: 3393608
ISBN: 978-1-109-60483-2
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