Photo of a globe with a bandage tied around it

Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience

This is the abstract of a paper by Alicia Ely Yamin. You can read the full paper in the Journal of Human Rights Practice here.

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abstract

Like other contributors to this special issue and beyond, I believe we are at a critical inflection point in human rights and need to re-energize our work broadly to address growing economic inequality as well as inequalities based on different axes of identity. In relation to the constellation of fields involved in ‘health and human rights’ specifically—which link distinct communities with dissonant values, methods and orthodoxies—I argue that we also need to challenge ideas that are taken for granted in the fields that we are trying to transform. After setting out a personal and subjective account of why human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) are unlikely to be meaningful tools for social change as they are now generally being deployed, I suggest we collectively—scholars, practitioners and advocates—need to grapple with how to think about: (1) biomedicine in relation to the social as well as biological nature of health and well-being; and (2) conventional public health in relation to the social construction of health within and across borders and health systems. In each case, I suggest that challenging accepted truths in different disciplines, and in turn in the political economy of global health, have dramatic implications for not just theory but informing different strategies for advancing health (and social) justice through rights in practice.

Cover of the book "Transparency in health and health care in the US"

Order Now: “Transparency in Health and Health Care in the United States”

Transparency is a concept that is becoming increasingly lauded as a solution to a host of problems in the American health care system. Transparency initiatives show great promise, including empowering patients and other stakeholders to make more efficient decisions, improve resource allocation, and better regulate the health care industry.

Nevertheless, transparency is not a cure-all for the problems facing the modern health care system. The authors of this volume present a nuanced view of transparency, exploring ways in which transparency has succeeded and ways in which transparency initiatives have room for improvement. Read More

Of Risk and Gene Drives

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel on gene editing at Harvard Medical School that covered some aspects of the science, ethics, and law of the practice. It was an interesting talk, in part because it largely covered the ethical issues of gene editing for human medicine and in other species as two sides of the same coin, rather than as fundamentally different conversations, as they are often treated.

Indeed, one member of the audience asked why there is so much focus on the safety and ethics of human gene editing, when the stakes, he argued, are much higher in the use of gene editing for environmental engineering. A botched human germline edit could harm a family; a botched gene drive could kill us all. It’s an interesting point. And because it suggests that we may want to be less than sanguine on the use of gene drives to eradicate malaria, on which I have previously been extremely sanguine, it is a point worth responding to. Read More

World map where continents are in blue pixels

Global Health Justice and Governance: Challenges and Proposals

A panel discussion held this week at Harvard Law School with Professor Jennifer Prah Ruger about her new book, “Global Health Justice and Governance,” with Professor Michael Stein and Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Carmel Shachar, provided a stimulating space for transdisciplinary discussion of critical justice imperatives in today’s world.

The challenges facing global health justice—from forced displacement, to climate change, to ever-changing technologies and evolving epidemiological profiles—are far too complex for one discipline to explain or resolve alone, which makes these kinds of discussions all the more essential. Read More

Close up of a mosquito sucking blood on human skin. This mosquito is a carrier of Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue and Zika virus.

Malaria Eradication: For Africa as America

There is a page in the history books waiting to be written for the eradication of malaria. In recent years, malaria has killed more people globally than war—it’s killed predominately children, and predominately in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite being curable, and eliminated from most developed countries, malaria is the fifth deadliest infectious disease in the world.

A team of scientists in Italy is looking to write that history. Read More

NHS logo on the side of a building

Update on the Future Direction of Patient Safety in the National Health Service

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on February 6 gave a wide-ranging speech on the future direction of patient safety in the NHS. The speech is important as it gives key insights into government priorities for patient safety policy development in the NHS.He stated that we all trust nurses and doctors more than any other profession. He spoke about the importance of a “just culture” in the NHS and openness, honesty, and trustworthiness. Read More

Security and Health: Police as Key Players in Public Health

For more than a decade, a variety of scholars and practitioners in public health, policing and the broader domain of security have been stoking a conversation about the links between their disciplines and the need to do a better job integrating the disciplines and practices.

This week, The Lancet published a special series on Security and Health. A global set of authors, myself included, make the case that military and police forces should be recognized as key players, rather than intruders, in public health, and therefore we need these relationships to be backed by investment in partnerships and reform. Take a look. You may even be inspired to put the next global Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference on your agenda, set for Edinburgh in October.

 

Introducing the Global Health and Rights Project and Senior Fellow Alicia Yamin

Despite leaps in biomedical innovation in the developed world, inequalities in global health outcomes persist, as well as systemic barriers to public health and health services. However, the struggle for health rights and global health justice continues.

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy is therefore thrilled to announce the launch of the Global Health and Rights Project (GHRP), which will promote theorization of a “right to health” under international law as well as applicable domestic law, challenges to using human rights frameworks to advance global health justice, the relationship between global economic and health governance, and more. Read More

A protester holds a sign with a quote that reads: "Pf all the forms of inequality injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

We Shouldn’t Be Focusing on Whether Healthcare Is a Right

The call for “Medicare for All” has grown louder and its cadence more frequent. Even President Obama has expressed support for it. Increasingly, as policymakers and stakeholders debate the path forward for healthcare in the U.S., a familiar invocation of human rights language can be heard.

The sentiment that “healthcare is a right” — rather, that it should be a right — has many layers. Its complexity is more accurately captured as “health(care) is a (human) right”. These parens make my head spin, too. They also suggest that Medicare for All is at best a piecemeal solution to the causes of poor health in the U.S. Read More

Ebola… again: What have we learned?

By Alicia Ely Yamin

As Susan Sontag eloquently noted decades ago, illness conjures metaphors that reveal a great deal about how we think about, and, in turn, address them. None more so than the lethal Ebola, which monstrously disfigures bodies before killing the infected person and spreading rapidly through the routines of everyday life.

In the West, Ebola evokes images of illness as a deadly foreign invasion, while in the West African pandemic we know that first those who were afflicted—and later those who survived—were stigmatized as possessing demons.

The growing outbreak in the DRC has produced calls for greater physical and financial involvement from the US government by a number of health law scholars, citing the potential for exponential spread if it reaches highly populated areas, and underscoring it as a global health security issue.  Thus far, WHO’s Director General has not declared it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC), which triggers consideration of both trade and travel restrictions, as well as international assistance and under the International Health Regulations. Read More