Doctors and patients sit and talk. At the table near the window in the hospital.

Does the Right to Health Enhance Patient Rights?

By Luciano Bottini Filho

Despite the value of a constitutionally enshrined right to health, such a guarantee, on its own, does not ensure patient rights or a nuanced understanding of patient-centered care.

This article will consider the case study of Brazil as an example. Despite Brazil’s recognition of the right to health, this constitutional protection does not set sufficient standards to guide judicial decision-making around patient care.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – August 31, 2017: Horizontal view of some waste collector machines over Matanza River (also known as Riachuelo at its mouth in River Plate), La Boca neighborhood.

Searching for Environmental Justice in Argentina: Revisiting the Reality of the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Case after Fifteen Years

By Alicia Ely Yamin and María Natalia Echegoyemberry

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Argentina’s Villa Inflamable (literally “Inflammable Slum”) is the noxious sulfur smell of the air that mixes with other acrid chemicals, which makes it difficult to breathe deeply. When a breeze picks up, the sands that have been used to extract contaminated water from the nearby Riachuelo, one of the ten most highly contaminated rivers in the world, rain down on everyone, filling eyes and lungs with toxic particulate matter.

As petrochemical tanker trucks parade through nearby paved streets, the unpaved lanes of Villa Inflamable alternate between toxic dust blowing through the air on dry days to flooding raw sewage on rainy ones. Everyone knows someone who died of cancer, or had pregnancy complications and children with birth defects. More than 600 children have been born and are growing up exposed to highly carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene and toluene.

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KYIV, UKRAINE - Feb. 25, 2022: War of Russia against Ukraine. A residential building damaged by an enemy aircraft in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Misplaced Skepticism on Accountability for War Crimes Against Health Care in Ukraine

By Leonard Rubenstein

Russian attacks on hospitals, ambulances, and health workers in Ukraine — including more than 180 attacks confirmed by the World Health Organization, and double that number reported by the Ministry of Health — have gained global attention. In one case, viral photos document the evacuation of pregnant women, including one on a stretcher who later died, from a maternity hospital in Mariupol destroyed by Russian shelling. It is likely that investigations will show that many of these acts are war crimes. Accountability for these crimes must be pursued.

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Sign at train station in Berlin that describes free support for pet owners coming from Ukraine.

Ethical Challenges Associated with the Protection of Pets in War

(Photo: Sign at the central train station in Berlin (Berlin Hauptbahnhof) that offers free support for pet owners coming from Ukraine. Courtesy of Kristin Sandvik.)

By Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Introduction

The care for animals rapidly became a part of the humanitarian narrative of the attack on Ukraine.

There are countless accounts of the efforts of activists, shelters and zoo staff to keep animals alive, as well as underground operations to get them to safety. And, as Ukrainians flee for their lives, they are frequently accompanied by their pets.

EU initiatives and advocacy efforts by animal rights groups pushed receiving countries to modify entrance requirements, waive fees, provide veterinary services, and shorten or eliminate quarantine times. The EU announced a special derogation in Regulation 2013/576, allowing the import of Ukrainian refugee pets without meeting standard requirements. Many governments have welcomed Ukrainian pets with or without their owners, and without documentation, rabies vaccine, and/or microchip.

Humanitarian action is typically human centric; this broad societal acceptance of pets as legitimate refugee companions, and the attendant rapid regulatory accommodations, are unique developments. In this blog, I draw on perspectives from disaster studies, international humanitarian law (IHL), refugee studies, and animal studies to articulate a set of ethical dilemmas around classification and policymaking that arise when pets are recognized as a humanitarian protection problem.

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Doctors performing surgery.

The Need to Go Back to Basics in Patient Safety

By John Tingle and Amanda Cattini

In the hustle and bustle of our daily professional lives, it is sometimes all too easy to forget about the basics. In terms of health care practice and patient safety, these underpinning basic, foundational concepts include the need for proper patient communication strategies.

The consequences of failures in patient communication can be devastating. There is a need to go back to this basic issue at regular intervals.

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GHRP affiliated researchers.

Introducing the Global Health and Rights Project’s New Affiliated Researchers

(Clockwise from top left: Alma Beltrán y Puga, Luciano Bottini Filho, Ana Lorena Ruano, María Natalia Echegoyemberry)

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Chloe Reichel

Leer en español.

In the years before the pandemic, and especially since the pandemic began, there have been increasing calls to decolonize global health. Setting aside what Ṣẹ̀yẹ Abímbọ́lá rightly characterizes as the slipperiness of both the terms “decolonizing” and “global health,” these calls speak to the need to reimagine governance structures, knowledge discourses, and legal frameworks — from intellectual property to international financial regulation.

Global health law itself, anchored in the International Health Regulations (2005), purports to present a universal perspective, but arguably rigidifies colonialist assumptions about the sources of disease, national security imperatives, priorities in monitoring “emergencies,” and governance at a distance. The diverse tapestry of international human rights scholarship related to health is often not reflected in analyses of the field from the economic North. In turn, that narrow vision of human rights has also increasingly faced critiques from TWAIL, Law & Political Economy, and other scholars, for blinkered analyses that fail to challenge the structural violence in our global institutional order — which the pandemic both laid bare and exacerbated.

In an attempt to enlarge discussion of these important topics and amplify diverse voices, the Petrie-Flom Center is welcoming four new affiliated researchers to the Global Health and Rights Project (GHRP).

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Traffic light.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, the Failure of the Binary PHEIC Declaration System, and the Need for Reform

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Ilja Richard Pavone

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised unprecedented challenges for the global health framework and its long-term consequences are not yet in full sight. The legal and institutional regime aimed at preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, grounded on the International Health Regulations (IHR) was heavily criticized.

The alarm mechanism based on the declaration of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), in particular, has been severely tested. A PHEIC is an extraordinary event that constitutes a potential public health risk through the international spread of a disease outbreak. The WHO Director-General bases his decision to “ring the bell” upon the technical advice of an Emergency Committee (EC) carrying out “an assessment of the risk to human health, of the risk of international spread, and of the risk of interference with international traffic.”

A PHEIC, then, is declared only when an event is already sufficiently acute and has started to spread internationally. It is not an early warning, but a formal alert, and in the case of COVID-19 it was issued with extreme delay only on 30 January 2020, (one month after notification of early cases by the Chinese government), after Beijing had already adopted quarantine measures around the city of Wuhan, and draconian measures to curb the spread of the disease in the country had been announced.

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The Mexican-American border, with some construction still ongoing on the American side.

Pandemics without Borders? Reconsidering Territoriality in Pandemic Preparedness and Response Instruments

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Raphael Oidtmann

The COVID-19 pandemic has (yet again) disclosed that, in contemporary international law, the notion of borders resembles a distinct emanation of legal fiction, i.e., “something assumed in law to be fact irrespective of the truth or accuracy of that assumption.” This characterization of international borders holds particularly true with a view towards managing, containing, and countering the spread of highly contagious pathogens: especially in the context of responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has hence become apparent that the traditional conception of borders as physical frontiers has been rendered somewhat moot. On the contrary, the pandemic experience has proven that a more flexible, fluid, and functional understanding of (international) borders might be warranted, also with a view towards (re-)conceptualizing international health law.

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Geneva, Switzerland - December 03, 2019: World Health Organization (WHO / OMS).

Towards Member-driven International Pandemic Lawmaking

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Ching-Fu Lin and Chuan-Feng Wu

The COVID-19 pandemic has blatantly exposed the flaws of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its International Health Regulations (IHR) in addressing cross-border communicable diseases. Commentators have examined the IHR’s decades of struggle in fulfilling its objectives to control cross-border pandemics such as COVID-19, pointing out problems over the level of obligation, precision of language, delegation of power, settlement of dispute, and lack of enforcement power, among others. What has been overlooked, however, is the crucial question of whether the institutional design of the IHR enables the WHO and its Member States to deliver good global pandemic governance.

We argue that the IHR is ill-designed: its rules and mechanisms are disproportionately tied to the Director General’s (DG) exercise of power, rendering insufficient member access to and participation in core decision-making and greater tendency of regulatory capture. For example, the IHR failed to facilitate the timely declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) due to the DG’s and the Emergency Committee’s misinterpretation and misapplication of rules allegedly driven by political considerations. On 23 January 2020, even when COVID-19 cases had already been found outside of China, thereby indicating the risk of cross-border transmission (IHR Article 12(4)(e)), the second meeting of the Emergency Committee decided to confine the definition of “international spread” to “having actual local spread of COVID-19 in a country beyond China,” instead of “having the potential for, or a risk of, cross-border transmission,” and refused to declare a PHEIC. The WHO is also criticized for abusing its bureaucratic influences to further the agendas of individual Member States like China, letting politics override science.

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