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My Health, My Right

Updated: May 18

my health my right

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the 7th of April as World Health Day with the theme of  MY HEALTH, MY RIGHT.

According to the WHO half the world’s population, nearly 4.5 billion people lack basic health services even though at least 140 countries recognize health as a human right in their constitution.

Burning of fossil fuels has impacted the basic need for breathing clean air with air pollution claiming a life every 5 seconds.

Conflicts around the world are destroying existing health infrastructure further deteriorating health services causing untold miseries, psychological distress, and death.

Last but not least, diseases and disasters continue to threaten livelihoods causing death and destruction.

So, it is only apt that the WHO identified access to basic health services as a fundamental right.

In addition to the WHO, governments, and healthcare providers, all of us should reflect on this and take steps to improve personal health, the health of our loved ones and our communities.

Health as  a basic human right

Right to safe and quality health care without any discrimination

safe and quality health care

Everyone has a right to standard, trustworthy, and efficient healthcare access irrespective of age, gender, race, region, economic or social status. With the adoption of mobile phones and other digital technologies, access to care has increased and the cost of care has decreased,  This should only make access to care more equitable.

Right to privacy and confidentiality of health information

privacy and confidentiality of health information.

We have the right to keep the details about our health private and confidential. Privacy here refers to the protection of personal identity and confidentiality applies to the protection of data and the details of medical condition and care. It plays a vital role in building trust in the Doctor-Patient relationship. Neither the treating physician nor anyone else in the know can divulge the details without consent from the patient, except in the case of minors or the mentally incapacitated where the details can be shared with parents or guardians.

In India, disclosure of personal health information without consent is considered a criminal offense, per the IT Act of 2000.  

Right to information about your treatment and informed consent

Right to information about your treatment and to informed consent

Every patient has the right to know about the treatment choices available, and the pros and cons of each of them. Each patient can choose the line of treatment or deny treatment entirely.

Affirmative approval – known as informed consent - must be obtained from the patient before initiating the chosen treatment after providing the patient with all the relevant details about the plan of action.

Right to bodily autonomy and integrity

Right to bodily autonomy and integrity

Everyone, including children, has the right to make self-determined decisions over their bodies without undue policing, which is central to the enjoyment of other human rights principles such as gender equality and human dignity. For example. In India, abortion is legal with access to safe and legal abortion available regardless of marital status.

Right to make decisions about one’s health

Right to make decisions about one’s health

Each one of us can choose the medical care we receive. In India, you can choose the healthcare stream you want to get care from Allopathy, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy, etc. However, insurance coverage is not available for all.  Within each system, an individual has the right to consent to or reject any treatment.

Rights come with duties and responsibilities

While our right to good health is unquestionable, we must also acknowledge that, like every other right, the right to good health requires us to fulfil a few essential duties and responsibilities individually.

The most important duties are:

1) Choosing to eat healthy.

2) Leading an active lifestyle.

3) Abstaining from addictions.

4) Actively participating in and promoting physically/mentally healthy lifestyles and habits at home and in our surroundings.

 Our responsibilities include:

1) To strive to ensure a safe, healthy, and happy lifestyle for the children, elderly, and every member of the family.

2) To reject or discourage local bodies from indulging in unhealthy and non-ecofriendly policymaking.

3) To always choose to vote for/participate in health-promoting and health-preserving activities in the locality.

4) To educate the children and youth around us, about the physical and mental health hazards of recreational drugs, processed foods, and other harmful habits and lifestyles.

Apart from the above, it is most important to seek medical attention, not only for self, but also be responsible for seeking the same, periodically, and when required, for our near and dear ones, especially the vulnerable ones:  children, elderly, and women.

Early identification and prevention of health issues are crucial to reduce the disease burden and primary care physicians play a vital role in catering to that need. Prevention is always better than cure, and periodic health checks and doctor consultations go a long way in serving this cause.

Everyone has a role to play

Local and national governments can influence and drive health behaviors with the right policies, incentives and disincentives. Some of the examples of the role of policymaking in the prevention of harmful addictions taken by the Government of India are:

  • Initiatives to discourage the use of tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages with high taxes, and restrictions on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

  • Mandatory pictorial and text health warning labels on the packaging. Ban on underage use of tobacco/alcohol.

  • Restrictions on the location of sale of such products.

  • Ban on manufacture, transport, and sale of E-cigarettes.

Access to clean and safe drinking water, good nutrition, and vaccinations have gone a long way in reducing infectious disease burdens.

Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous play a vital role in motivating, creating awareness, and deaddiction.

Celebrities sharing some of their struggles with addictions/mental illness or serious physical ailments help create awareness, reduce social stigma, and increase the willingness to seek medical help and cure.

In the Indian context, movies are a powerful influence in helping with health awareness. This needs to be encouraged. They effectively draw attention to several social issues including recreational drug abuse, the need for sanitary hygiene, superstitions contributing to compromised health, and the effects of air/water/land pollution.

In summary, while the WHO attempts to increase awareness, governments and local organizations help with improving the health of communities, the biggest role and responsibility is that of the individual to take every step possible to maintain good health and prevent illness. That is the greatest contribution anyone can make to their personal and national wealth.

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