Health, Essential Medicines, Human Rights & National Constitutions
(2008; 124 pages)


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 the right to health through four concrete and targeted steps including the creation of conditions for individuals to access health facilities, goods and services. General Comment 14 (2000) identifies access to essential medicines as part of the minimum 13 core contents of the right to health. The right to health principles, including accessibility, availability, appropriateness and assured quality, are also applied 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 cost-effectiveness. Essential medicines are used for disease prevention, treatment and control and are applicable to most chronic and acute diseases, thus, they are required 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 constitutions.

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 changing needs. Health programs, born from policies and laws, can yield positive health outcomes and the individual realization of health rights. Therefore constitutional law has the potential to impact individual health circumstances...

The WHO Essential Medicines and Health Products Information Portal was designed and is maintained by Human Info NGO. Last updated: December 1, 2019