The human right to health emerged as a social right in the World Health
Organization (WHO) Constitution (1948) and has since been included in several
international treaties and declarations. The International Covenant on Economic,
Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) described the progressive realization of
right to health through four concrete and targeted steps including the creation
conditions for individuals to access health facilities, goods and services.
Comment 14 (2000) identifies access to essential medicines as part of the
13 core contents of the right to health. The right to health principles,
accessibility, availability, appropriateness and assured quality, are also
to health goods and services, including essential medicines.
Essential medicines, as defined by the WHO, are those required to meet the
priority health care needs of a population. Essential medicines are chosen with
consideration for disease prevalence, efficacy and safety of the drug and
Essential medicines are used for disease prevention, treatment and
control and are applicable to most chronic and acute diseases, thus, they are
to manage the global burden of treatable and preventable disease.
The operationalization of health rights is a dynamic process. The right to
health and essential medicines has been entrenched in international law. Truly
committed governments will include the right to health in their national
Constitutional obligations can provide a framework from which national
health policies and laws can be formulated. These legal aspects of health rights
are not static. Many countries revise or produce new constitutions while others
choose to create or amend national legislation and policies to suit their
needs. Health programs, born from policies and laws, can yield positive health
outcomes and the individual realization of health rights. Therefore
law has the potential to impact individual health circumstances...