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Placing human rights at the core of pandemic prevention and response

Placing human rights at the core of pandemic prevention and response

On May 23, The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights co-sponsored the launch of the Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Public Health Emergencies.

The Principles are the result of a 2-year effort led by the Global Health Law Consortium and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). As part of its strategic efforts in progressive normative development, The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been closely involved in drafting and discussing the Principles. Thanks to this continued effort, GI-ESCR pushed for including in the Principles special emphasis monitoring and regulating private actors in healthcare, drawing on human rights investigations conducted in Kenya, Nigeria and Italy as well as conceptual work on the interpretation of the right to health by UN Treaty Bodies.

Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, GI-ESCR’s executive director and former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has participated in the event as a speaker, endorsing the principles and emphasizing the urgent need to build strong, resilient, and rights-aligned public healthcare services to effectively prevent and respond to public health emergencies and to reverse the commercialisation of healthcare services.

The Principles address these important issues, for instance, in Principle 9.1. ‘States must strengthen and develop a universal, resilient, functional, integrated, accountable, rights-based and people-centred health system for the entire population’. Likewise, Principle 10.3 on maximising resources for pandemic prevention and preparedness importantly recognises that States should ‘where necessary, take effective measures to direct or otherwise regulate the use of privately held, owned or operated resources, particularly those resources held, owned or operated in private healthcare sectors within a State’s jurisdiction; and b. coordinate with private actors, particularly those with resources held, owned or operated in the private healthcare sectors within the State’s jurisdiction’.

Magdalena also recalled that to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including the right to health, there is an urgent need for strengthened monitoring and regulation of private healthcare actors, such as private healthcare providers, private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, because this was tragically evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the human rights investigations we conducted in Kenya and Nigeria, we found that individuals living in marginalised urban areas often seek healthcare in low-cost, unsafe, and unlicensed private clinics, nursing homes and laboratories.

The Human Rights & Public Health Emergency Guidelines address these problems in Principle 5 on ‘Human rights duties relating to non-State actors’ as well as in Principle 9.3 and Principle 5.1: ‘States must regulate and monitor engaged non-State actors to prevent them from impairing the enjoyment of human rights and provide for redress and accountability’ as part of the duty of states to protect human rights when a third party is involved.

The Guidelines also importantly reiterates that this applies to private actors operating domestically and cross-nationally and involves a duty of states to ensure effective collaboration and coordination between all healthcare actors to effectively respond to public health emergencies. The Guidelines also importantly explicitly mention such as ‘private healthcare providers and insurers, and manufacturers of health goods, facilities and technologies’.


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