World Health Day: My health beyond the horizon of rights

Limiting the concept of health to merely a right creates challenges in “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” mentioned in the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Niraj Shrestha

  • Read Time 3 min.

This year the theme of the World Health Day is ‘My health, my right’. The theme has been chosen to “champion the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination”. Undoubtedly, health is a fundamental human right, reinforced by article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The themes of the World Health Day have been effectively used to shine a light on a health issues. Hence, limiting the concept of health to merely a right creates challenges in “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” mentioned in the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA)

The theme- My Health, my right—is in line with HRBA, one among the six guiding principles of the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework . The HBRA fundamentally focuses on making duty holders or office bearers accountable and empowering underserved, marginalized, and poorest sections of the demography to become advocates for their own rights. For instance, in context of service delivery, affordability, acceptability and accessibility to quality health services is a fundamental requirement that should be afforded by the state. Hence, in this context, the underserved and marginalized should be empowered to hold officials and elected representatives to account. However, the right to clean air, good nutrition and decent environmental conditions and right to freedom from discrimination is not something that can be guaranteed by the state through the prism of right but attained righteously through a sense of collective civic responsibility.

Clean air

I ride a fossil fuel driven bike which helps me travel to work and fulfill my personal responsibilities. I acknowledge that I probably own a bike because of the lack of an accessible public transport infrastructure. However, that complaint cannot be the reason to not service my bikes at regular interval which helps minimize pollutants emitted from it. I can also think about walking to the office occasionally or periodically and sometimes use the public transport.

The status of air quality in Nepal annual report, 2021 suggests that vehicular emissions are one of the major cause of air pollution. Moreover, vehicle registration rate in Kathmandu Valley has been found to increase by 15 per cent per annum resulting in an estimated 4.5 million tons of CO2 emission per year in the valley for 2025, which is close to double the CO2 emissions with respect to 2020 figures.

Hence, as a resident of Kathmandu valley to ensure my right to clean air we will all have to start taking the responsibility of minimizing sources of air pollution at an individual level.  

Good nutrition

Recent findings of the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey, 2022 states that 69 per cent of children age 6–23 months consumed unhealthy foods a day prior to the survey. Likewise, research work suggests that, between 1970 and 2010, per-capita energy consumption of fat has doubled and sugar and sweeteners consumption has witnessed a nine-fold increase per-capita. Ievitably, Nepal is in a state of nutrition transition. In a globalized world, governments have no business of micromanaging what I can or cannot eat. Hence, in this instance too my right to good nutrition depends on my individual decisions around food consumption.

Clean city

School children gathering at a shop post school to get ice cream, chocolates and other junk items is usual scene around the place I live. However, what is more painful is seeing them throw away the wrappers right outside the shop. I have also witnessed these wrappers flying out of school buses. Well! It is a sad sight. However, what is equally painful is our inability to convince the school children about a basic civic responsibility which is to throw the waste into the bins or put it inside their pockets until they find a waste bin. Undeniably, I have a right to clean environment but for that I need to take the responsibly of disposing the waste into bins and where applicable convince others to follow suit.  

My right my responsibility

Nepal currently enjoys a demographic divided, a “demographic window of opportunity”, a status marked by prominence of working age population. Estimates suggests that Nepal will become an aged society by 2054 i.e.14% of its population will be 65 years and above. For Nepal to leverage this opportunity and become an economically prosperous nation we will have to live healthy and productive lives. However, the protagonist of Nepal’s growth story will not be the rights enshrined in the constitution on health and wellbeing, but it will have to be the unwritten social contract between the state and its citizens about fundamental civic responsibilities. Hence, idea of health as a right is misconstrued.