Gavel and stethoscope.

Symposium Conclusion: Health Justice: Engaging Critical Perspectives in Health Law & Policy

By Lindsay F. Wiley and Ruqaiijah Yearby

As our digital symposium on health justice comes to a close, we have much to be thankful for and inspired by. We are honored to provide a platform for contributions from scholars spanning multiple disciplines, perspectives, and aspects of health law and policy. Collectively with these contributors, we aim to define the contours of the health justice movement and debates within it, and to explore how scholars, activists, communities, and public health officials can work together to engage critical perspectives in health law and policy.

As we described in our symposium introduction, the questions we posed to contributors focused their work on four main themes: (1) subordination (including discrimination and poverty) is the root cause of health injustice, (2) subordination shapes health through multiple pathways, (3) health justice engages multiple kinds of experiences and expertise, and (4) health justice requires empowering communities, redressing harm, and reconstructing systems. Most of the contributions to this symposium cut across more than one of these themes, but we present them here in four broad categories.

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Mexico City 03082021 Feminist march against gender violence, March 8 in Mexico thousands of women protest in the streets for safety and better living conditions, using banners.

Strengthening Global and National Governance for Gender Equality in Health Emergencies

By Anna Coates

An international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response opens a much-needed space to highlight the centrality of gender inequality considerations in health emergency responses.

With an eye to inclusive governance, investment in gender expertise, and strengthening existing normative mechanisms and architecture for gender equality at global and national levels, a new intergovernmental instrument offers an opportunity for future health emergency preparedness and responses to meaningfully contribute to gender equality.

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Lady Justice blindfolded with scales.

Health Justice Can’t Be Blind

By Daniel E. Dawes

“Justice is blind.” We have all heard this phrase before, and seen the iconic representation: the blindfolded Lady Justice.

That blindfold is supposed to symbolize impartiality. It represents our strict subscription to the notion that impartiality and objectivity are the principles upon which our system is built and by which it is protected. This notion that justice is blind is one rooted in equality.

But justice should not always be blind. Rather than prioritizing equal treatment, sometimes justice demands that we treat individuals differently to ensure equal outcomes. This notion of justice is rooted in the principle of equity.

Put simply, equity takes fairness as its aim. Where equality entails the equal (i.e., impartial) treatment of individuals, equity demands a nuanced approach to ensure equal outcomes.

To achieve justice in the realm of health, our focus must be on equity, and not on blind equality.

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Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine.

The Target of Health Justice

By Sridhar Venkatapuram 

As we amplify, further develop, and advise in the realizing of health justice, there would be much benefit in clarifying the basic units of moral concern.

This call for more specificity relates to both who is the primary unit of moral concern (individuals, communities, nation-states, etc.) as well as what it is that we care about in relation to them (i.e., liberties, resources including health care, basic needs, respect, opportunities, capabilities, relationships, etc.).

In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where vaccines have become the preeminent goods of value worldwide, I focus my discussion here on how distributing vaccines equitably at the level of geographical units such as districts or nation-states may obfuscate or tolerate injustices, as well as provide suboptimal control of the pandemic.

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Scientific Innovation in International Pandemic Lawmaking — Second Symposium Editorial

By Pedro A. Villarreal, on behalf of the editors*

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Perhaps there is some Utopia where scientific research could immediately provide us all the accurate data on a novel disease´s severity and fatality rate. No doubt some (although not everyone) believe that such an ideal world would include mathematical models that could accurately predict both the disease´s pattern, as well as the effectiveness of the array of medical and non-medical tools to confront it. In this imaginary reality, data could tell us exactly to what extent restrictive public health measures are necessary in a given society to limit the spread of a pathogen, and it would be shared without constraints across the globe. Moreover, in this mythical world, there would be no distance between research and its application, as policymakers would simply need to draw from existing information to “make the right call.” Failsafe mechanisms would be in place to avoid the temptation of either altering scientific data, or using it for partisan motives. And, needless to say, in an ideal world, both research and the products of scientific innovation, including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, would be available to everyone, globally, on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

No such world is possible because science does not work that way. However, the broken world in which we find ourselves underscores the central imperative of reflecting on how lawmaking can be deployed to advance scientific innovation and equity.

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SANTA PAULA, CALIFORNIA - CIRCA 1980's: A small-town barbershop, Santa Paula, CA.

The Road to Systemic Change: Health Justice, Equity, and Anti-Racism

By Keon L. Gilbert and Jerrell DeCaille

The health justice movement helps to marry social justice models with equity frameworks.

This critical partnership advances health equity through community-based approaches to health care and social services, collaborations that minimize duplicative services, and the creation of sustainable relationships to advocate for systemic change.

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Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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A volunteer loads food into the trunk of a vehicle during a drive thru food distribution by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank at Exposition Park on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Los Angeles.

How Community Organizations and Health Departments Can Partner to Advance Health Justice

By Sarah de Guia, Rachel A. Davis, and Kiran Savage-Sangwan

Health justice is not just a cause or an idea, but the way forward for public health agencies and communities alike.

Beyond focusing attention on measurable disparities, the term health justice provides a vision for a fair future that minimizes inequities and sends a clear and urgent call to change discriminatory policies, practices, and systems. To achieve this vision, governments and other large institutions must share power with partners of all kinds to change the structural, systemic, and institutional causes of health and wealth disparities. Otherwise, these disparities will continue to keep our communities from achieving their greatest potential to live healthy, prosperous lives.

Our organizations — ChangeLab Solutions, Prevention Institute, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, with support from The California Wellness Foundation and The Blue Shield of California Foundation — came together to help guide California policymakers in centering health justice in their approaches to COVID-19 response and recovery. Our work analyzing community health efforts in California during the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the necessity of collaborative partnerships in advancing health justice. Most importantly, our findings revealed the indispensable role that community-based organizations (CBOs) played in responding to community needs during this time of crisis.

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Globe and vaccine.

Promoting Vaccine Equity

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief longstanding equity problems surrounding the allocation of newly developed vaccines against emerging pathogens.

In my upcoming book, Vaccines as Technology: Innovation, Barriers, and the Public Health, I examine these problems and look into possible solutions to incrementally build more equitable frameworks of access to vaccines targeting emerging pathogens. These solutions focus on ensuring that vaccines are made available affordably to the populations that need them the most according to public health parameters.

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Many people together around the world. 3D Rendering.

The Pandemic Treaty as a Framework for Global Solidarity: Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations in Global Health Governance

By Benjamin Mason Meier, Judith Bueno de Mesquita, and Sharifah Sekalala

Rising nationalism has presented obstacles to global solidarity in the COVID-19 pandemic response, undermining the realization of the right to health throughout the world.

These nationalist challenges raise an imperative to understand the evolving role of human rights in global health governance as a foundation to advance extraterritorial human rights obligations under global health law.

This contribution examines these extraterritorial obligations of assistance and cooperation, proposing human rights obligations to support global solidarity through the prospective pandemic treaty.

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