Health security and the right to health: friends and foes

The right to health and the obligations of countries worldwide were the focus of the latest George Talks event at The George Institute for Global Health.

Professor Gorik Ooms, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, presented: ‘Health security and the right to health: friends and foes’ and began by explaining human rights as a concept; that one cannot have a right if there is no corresponding obligation.

He stated that a person’s right to health was based on a reasonable expectation that society will intervene.

He said:

“If you talk about human rights and the content of those rights is different depending on the country you are born, I think that’s a problem…..The right to health is a normative paradigm; enlightened self-interest because we share a common interest to halt infectious disease, and charity, which can change focus depending on the interests of the day.”

Professor Ooms also stated the only example of right to health working globally was the entitlement to antiretroviral drugs for people starting HIV treatment.

He ended his talk to a full house saying reminding the audience that human rights don’t have any force, they are instruments that are only as strong as the people who wield them.

Professor Gorik Ooms: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Gorik Ooms is a human rights lawyer and a global health scholar, Professor of Global Health Law & Governance at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Adjunct Professor at the Law Faculty of Georgetown University, and Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of Ghent University. Between 1990 and 2008, he worked with Médecins Sans Frontières Belgium in different positions, and as Executive Director from August 2004 until June 2008. He is one of the co-chairs of the Lancet Commission on a synergistic approach to universal health coverage, health security, and health promotion. Gorik Ooms’ research focuses on the use of international law (human rights law and other law) as a tool to regulate states’ behaviour that influences global health problems, and as an expression of common human values.