12 December 2017

Our right to health

Today, 12 December 2017, is the first International Universal Health Coverage Day, as adopted by the UN General Assembly. Every Woman Every Child is marking the date by highlighting the importance of youth voices when it comes to making health decisions. To do so, we asked 10 young adults from around the world: “What basic health rights do you deserve?”

The right to health is a fundamental human right—everybody has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. However, one would argue, it may mean different things:

  • that no one person has a greater right to health care than anyone else;
  • that there is adequate health-care infrastructure; that health-care services are respectful and non-discriminatory; and
  • that health care must be medically appropriate and of quality.

By attaining the right to health, people’s dreams and promises can be fulfilled. Yet, access to health is still a dream for many.

Despite substantial global health related progress made in the past decade, way too many women, children and adolescents still die from preventable causes around the world. Hundreds of thousands have limited access to healthcare services, particularly in conflict-affected contexts and developing countries.

New data shows that 3.5 billion people lack access to essential health services. 800 million worldwide spend more than 10 percent of their household budgets on health care expenses, and close to 100 million are pushed into extreme poverty because of it.

Universal Health Coverage is crucial to changing this situation, promoting basic human rights, reducing inequalities, and fostering economic growth.

We are at a critical juncture for progress on UHC. There is political commitment like never before, impressive country-level developments and intensified efforts around this goal. In order to achieve UHC by 2030, we need to commit to bringing health services to an additional 1 billion people and halving the number of people being pushed into extreme poverty to 50 million by 2023.

Progress on Universal Health Coverage is also essential for the successful implementation of the EWEC Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. With the adoption of the SDGs, world leaders committed to ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

These goals cannot be met without the inclusion of powerful young voices to drive real change, to build the world we would like to see by 2030.

We hope that the voices reflected in this article will open eyes to essential health rights issues and the importance of upping involvement of youth and adolescents in all development discussions.


*Please note: some answers may have been abridged from their original length to ensure equal space for all.

Bayan Sa’adeh |  24 | Jordan

“Everyone has the right to know how to lead a healthy life. Though not all have access to the information and knowledge about how to be healthy, we must all have the right to receive this education. The more education we receive, the more we become conscious and aware of how to live healthy lives. Education is key to having less diseases, less mental and psychological disorders and to have healthier social relationships.

Another important right is the access to existing services, resources and health institutions that provide care and medical services. Everyone, with no exceptions to economic or social standards, or race or gender or even where they live should be denied access to these services when needed.”

Eric Pick | 24 | USA

“I had an expensive surgery as a freshman in high school that my parents would not have been able to pay for. Like everyone else, I deserve to have all surgeries and treatments completely covered because a family should not have to struggle financially over an unpreventable procedure.”

Thanu | 15 | India

“I have the right to my own body. Nobody has the right to violate its privacy without my consent. I think every woman must have the right to choose whether she wants to carry a baby or not. Every woman deserves to decide her own destiny…that choice must be given to her.”

Bruno Tolino Maran | 23 | Brazil

“I think that we all deserve basic rights to health, which are the minimum for a life of dignity. For me, this means access to basic sanitation (treated water and sewage), to good nutrition, physical activities and leisure (so important for our mental health), and the right to safe housing, far from pollutants and toxic waste, as well as disease vectors, for instance.

Besides, we all deserve access to basic health care, including multi-disciplinary teams (with nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists and physical educators, according to individuals’ needs), and access to hospitals in case of illnesses that require secondary level attention.”

Tariah Adams | 31 | Nigeria

“I deserve the right to control my health and my body. To have the right information to make my own reproductive health decisions. I deserve the right to be provided SRH services irrespective of my age and marital status.”

Ruth Medaly | 13 | Peru

“All people need a health professional to check how our bodies are doing—only then can we prevent and cure various diseases.

For me, maintaining health is very important to live and have a good quality of life—very often we see children suffering from anemia and malnutrition due to a lack of good nutrition; cleanliness is also very important. And that, many times we do not know because there are not many specialists in the communities.”

Renaé Green | 26 | Jamaica

“As a woman of Trans* experience I deserve the right to access stigma and discrimination free health care regardless of how I present.”

Azad Izzeddîn | 35 | Syria

“Some basic health rights I deserve are the right to physical, and more importantly, mental health treatment. I also deserve the right to live in a clean environment and have clean food free of chemicals and pesticides. Last but not least, I have the right to live in a world free of violence and racism.”

Urooj Ansari | 19 | USA

“I deserve the right to make decisions regarding my reproductive health without stigma. I also deserve the right to quality healthcare, regardless of my financial standing.”

Ben Wallimann | 24 | France

“Growing up in France, I’ve always been well taken care of. Whether it’d be a common cold or a broken arm, it was always normal to go see the doctor for any physical pain. It was only after suffering from depression that I realized how hard it was to get help for mental illness, as it is not taken care of by our social security. I believe that we all deserve quality mental health as well as physical health.”

Latin American Youth

Latin American youngsters also answered the question: “What are your basic health rights?” Although all of them have their perspectives and interests, the right to be informed, to decide about their own body and to access health centers were highlighted as the most important.

Doris, from Honduras, emphasized the importance of equality: “I deserve to be treated with equality, without racism, without any type of discrimination. I deserve to have access to health, to contraceptive methods, to decide about my own body, and to make my own decisions”. Since 2016, she has been a volunteer in the Pan-American Social Marketing Organization as a change agent for the Zika Plus Healthy Youth Project.

Terisa, from Jamaica, pointed out that young people across the region face a multiplicity of health issues. “However, a common issue across borders is the lack of access to health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services.” Terisa recently launched an academic and empowerment scholarship for girls 15-18yrs. She has worked alongside many organizations that focus on youth and adolescent health, which has contributed to her recent appointment to the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS Regional Youth Steering Committee.

Read the full story on the Every Woman Every Child LAC website.