The right to health for Nigerians




Health is to be a basic human right which is linked to the realization of other human rights. It’s obviously linked to the right to life, which is the fulcrum upon which other rights derive their validity. It implies that the right to life could be violated through the denial of health supporting conditions to the point of abrogation. Nigeria is a state party and has ratified a multiplicity on the right to health. These standards include Universal declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights etc.

The right to health is the economic, social, cultural right to a universal minimum standard of health to which all individuals are entitled. The right to health for all people means that individuals, be it adults or children should have access to health services they need, when and where they need them, without any financial hardship.

No one’s right to life should be violated because they don’t have the funds to get the best treatment they need or because they cannot have access to the best health services they need. According to the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), the right to health is the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to health also extends to clean water, sanitation, healthy food and through a comprehensive system of health care.

The right to health was first articulated in the WHO Constitution (1946) which states that: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.”

The question here is, is it being implemented in Nigeria? People go to the hospital and don’t get attended to until they pay the bills that are required to be paid before being attended to, even if it’s an emergency. If you visit some other countries, they usually attend to the patient before giving him/her the bill. Saving a life is their priority.

The preamble of the Constitution describes health as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR) also stated in Article 25 that:

“(i) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(ii) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Also, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Nigeria is signatory to in Article 12 enjoins states to recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and steps to be taken by them to achieve the full realization of the rights.

The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.

Good health is also clearly determined by other basic human rights including access to safe drinking water and sanitation, nutritious foods, adequate housing, education and safe working conditions.

The right to health also means that everyone should be entitled to control their own health and body, including having access to sexual and reproductive information and services, free from violence and discrimination.

Everyone has the right to privacy and to be treated with respect and dignity. Nobody should be subjected to medical experimentation, forced medical examination, or given treatment without informed consent.

That’s why WHO promotes the idea of people-centred care; it is the embodiment of human rights in the practice of care. When people are marginalized or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. Discrimination in health care is unacceptable and is a major barrier to development.

But when people are given the opportunity to be active participants in their own care, instead of passive recipients, their human rights are respected, the outcomes are better and health systems become more efficient.

We have a long way to go until everyone – no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have – has access to these basic human rights.

John Chiamaka,
Centre for Social Justice (CSJ),
Abuja.

Related content you may like