My health, My Right

Each year, World Health Day aims to draw attention to one of the most crucial issues in this area – this year: “My health, my right”

My Health, My Right

World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on 7 April, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as other related organizations – image: WHO, all rights reserved

By the editorial team – In all, some 140 countries recognize health as a human right in their constitutions. Yet in these same countries, much remains to be done to ensure that people actually have access to health services. And we are still a long way from achieving this. According to the WHO, some 4.5 billion people, i.e. more than half the world’s population, still do not have access to essential health services.

Human rights under threat

Talking about health as a right is not just a concept. The right to health and related human rights are legally binding commitments enshrined in international human rights instruments. As such, countries have a legal obligation to implement laws and policies that guarantee universal access to quality health services that address the root causes of health disparities, including poverty, stigma and discrimination.

Today, however, human rights have never been so threatened. As the Secretary General of the United Nations reminded us at the opening of the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council: “As we mark its 75th anniversary, the Universal Declaration (of Human Rights) is under assault from all sides”.

Conflicts are raging across the globe – between Israel and Hamas, in Ukraine, Sudan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and the Sahel. War brings with it atrocities, loss of life, suffering and physical and mental distress. At the same time, the use of fossil fuels continues to be primarily responsible for the climate crisis, while denying us the right to breathe clean air. According to the WHO, outdoor and indoor air pollution kills one person every five seconds.


WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide each year – Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

2023 was the hottest year on record, resulting in giant wildfires, storms and droughts with devastating consequences on millions of people. Economic inequality rose around the world while the rights of women and LGBT people have faced backlashes in many countries. If current trends continue, it is estimated that more than 340 million women and girls will live in extreme poverty by 2030.

New and different challenges

The 21st century has been marked by major changes associated with new forms of communication and social interaction. Technological advances have brought with them new challenges due to the unequal distribution of these advances across countries, populations and social classes. In addition, climate and environmental changes, new forms and configurations of work, economic, financial and migratory crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic are also having a major negative impact on health and quality of life.

Mental health in particular has become a global health issue. According to the WHO, there has been a significant increase in certain psychiatric disorders worldwide, with direct consequences on people’s daily lives, while the responses provided remain insufficient or inadequate.

Conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use have intensified as a result of the pandemic. One of the key challenges over the next few years will be to make progress in understanding and addressing these issues.

Everyone’s commitment

The theme of World Health Day 2024, “My health, my right”, has been chosen to highlight the right of everyone, everywhere, to have access to quality health services, education and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition and decent environmental and working conditions. Yet an international campaign is unlikely to keep the world’s autocrats, and in general all those who violate human rights on a daily basis, awake at night.

The causes associated with these human rights abuses transcend borders and cannot be resolved by well-meaning governments acting alone. The response to these threats must be based on the universal and international principles of the rule of law and human rights, principles founded on shared human histories and accepted by the nations of the world 75 years ago.

Human rights are being threatened and challenged all over the world. Yet such a framework remains the only roadmap we have for building inclusive societies and meeting the global challenges that threaten humanity.