Health is a Human Right



A month ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of the CDC’s exhibitions entitled, “Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America” The exhibition examined challenges which made it difficult for certain minority groups and socially disadvantaged peoples to receive equal access to healthcare throughout history. The exhibit attempted to show that, whether due to socioeconomic and/or political factors, many groups of people in the United States are being forced to live without the basic resources that ensure health, including clean water, sanitation, housing, food, and health care. The purpose of this exhibit was to explain that health should be accessible to everyone, and that universal health should be provided to people regardless of their status, class, race, or gender. The exhibition emphasized that the aim of universal health should be to ensure that all people have equal and rights and access to health services without suffering from financial difficulty. However, this raises the ethical dilemma of whether or not providing universal healthcare alone, guarantees health and well-being. Do we have any social or moral responsibilities and obligations in other’s overall health? According to Gopal Sreenivasan, in his article, Health Care and Equality of Opportunity “one widely accepted way of justifying universal access to health care is to argue that access to health care is necessary to ensure health, which is necessary to provide equality of opportunity, but the evidence on the social determinants of health undermines this argument.” Sreenivasan further argues that “universal access to healthcare” and “actual health and well-being” are two different phenomena. His suggestion is that “instead of introducing a national health insurance scheme, [if] we had spent the same amount of money on equalizing the distribution of social status – then our society’s gradient in health would have been significantly reduced.”

What Sreenivasan points out is that well-being in terms of an individual’s health status, first requires a commitment of social investment for public goods because the socio-economic class is a deterrent in providing fair share of health to people. Sreenivasan explains that a “social determinant of health is a socially controllable factor outside the traditional health care system that is an independent partial cause of an individual’s health status.” For example, poverty alone is the cause of many unpleasant health problems; for the poor even small costs to visit a medical clinic can be devastating for the family’s financial situation; merely providing an equal amount of care to them would not be enough.  Sreenivasan’s argument implies that we should invest less on health and more on limiting the negative consequences of social determinants of health; the objective should be to tackle socioeconomic factors that create major discrepancies in health inequalities.

As was witnessed in the CDC exhibit, there are many political complexities preventing us from promoting and offering universal healthcare, we should still strive to achieve this goal. However, this should not be the only goal we strive for. As Sreenivasan states, offering healthcare alone will not create drastic improvements in the health of the general population. While we must offer healthcare, we must simultaneously battle the socioeconomic forces that worsen the health of the economically marginalized. If we can strive towards accomplishing these two goals, we can reverse the course of the history of healthcare and overall health of the general population.

Work Cited

Sreenivasan, Gopal. “Health Care and Equality of Opportunity”. The Hastings Center Report (2007). Pg 21-31.


33 thoughts on “Health is a Human Right

  1. I agree with many components of Sreenivasan’s argument especially that universal access to healthcare and health and well-being are completely different. Universal access to healthcare does not guarantee perfect health amongst all people. Healthcare is necessary when diseases emerge such as cancer, which has nothing to do with the sanitation of the environment. If we improved water cleanliness, air quality, etc and tried to make the world a cleaner place, we would be eliminating diseases caused by bacteria, but we would not be affecting cancer or genetic diseases.

    The best way to improve national health would not be to simply implement universal health insurance or to only tackle socioeconomic factors; I think a combination of the two would be ideal. If we improved the sanitation of our environment by redistributing our wealth to that area then we are helping to eliminate bacterial diseases. If we also redistributed another portion of our wealth to providing universal healthcare, then people would be able to afford cancer treatment more easily; hence, I believe it is more useful to split up the redistribution of our wealth.

  2. I too saw the exhibit “Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America” and I think it ties in quite nicely to Sreenivasan’s argument! When reading Sreenivasan’s report by itself, it is easy to forget about the importance of universal health care and be persuaded by his argument: that an investment in socioeconomics is more beneficial to overall health. However, as you mentioned, the exhibit depicted the types of disease, political struggles, and socioeconomic challenges that individuals across America are faced with. These difficulties often present themselves in ways that make it difficult for Americans to achieve the basic level of health that they deserve. When analyzing Sreenivasan’s argument and the exhibition as a whole, it becomes easier to realize that we cannot just focus our efforts on one path. Health in America as an extremely complicated issue and it is important to treat it as such; there is no quick solution or easy fix for the multifaceted problems that exist today. Therefore, I believe it is crucial for policy analysts and politicians alike to keep an open mind when discussing health care, without quickly dismissing any options, and using multiple strategies to solve the problems of today.

  3. I think that Sreenivasan would agree with your argument that we need to invest money into both health care and socioeconomic disparities. It does seem that he is advocating that socioeconomic determinants have more of an impact on health than lack of health care; however, I think that he was arguing that health care alone was not enough to eliminate health disparities. His overall argument (extreme as it was) seemed to point out that there are other factors that affect health. One of those is socioeconomic factors, but, as you have mentioned in your article, lack of preventative measures also negatively affects public health. Basically, the government must be willing to allocate its financial resources to multiple efforts in order to improve public health; choosing only one will hardly affect public health at all.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post because I, too, visited the Health Is a Human Right Exhibit at the CDC. Walking through the museum, I sensed the same things as you: unequal opportunity in terms of bare necessities like sanitation, housing, and food. I was actually bothered when I walked through because I realized that, in history, so many people, especially minorities, have been extremely unfortunate and still are today. It bothered me to know that there are still people today that suffer from these lack of opportunities and that nothing is being done about it. The question, then, about universal health care comes up. But how is it possible to expand this to everyone when, like you said, there are social determinants preventing this equality of opportunity anyways? I agree that the first step should be to try to equalize social status as much as possible by at least shortening the gap between those who can afford health care and those who can’t.

  5. It is true that we don’t spend enough on public health. When it comes to health care spending; however, the problem is not that we spend too much on health care but rather that we don’t spend efficiently. We discussed much of this earlier in the semester. The American people, and as an effect the U.S. government, prioritize curative over preventative care and other public health measures. Measures that could in turn reduce the impact of social determinants of health. If the money that went towards health care each year were spent less on administrative fees, wasted tests, overpriced medical technology and more on ensuring basic care to more individuals, it would be money well spent. There already exist public health initiatives that attempt to negate the effects of social determinants of health; however, Sreenivasan is right in that we need to invest more in these measures. Perhaps there should be more of a focus on ways to get the American people to care more about public health. If there were greater concern and initiative over public health measures among citizens, it would do a lot to increase public and private spending on education, housing, nutrition, etc. I do not believe that the problem rests with the current emphasis on health care. It is a matter of getting the public more excited about public health in order to even out the playing field.

  6. I think it is clear that universal healthcare alone does not guarantee health and well-being. As you said, so many factors go in to determining one’s health such as food, water, sanitation, and living situation. I agree with Sreenivasan that money would be better spent on social investment for public goods if the end goal is equal opportunity. However, I do see how a combinatino of these two approaches should be implemented. Money should be spent both on healthcare as well as socioeconomic factors in order to improve national health to the greatest degree. With such a complicated issue, a multi-faceted solution is necessary.

  7. It is interesting that I also went to CDC exhibit, which showed many socioeconomic factors that are influencing our health. As you have brought out about universal healthcare and those social factors, I believe that we should definitely take these two into account to ensure health to every individual. Even though in the CDC exhibit seems to persuade us that socioeconomic factors play significant roles in health, we still shouldn’t forget about basic healthcare. Without healthcare, it seems like there’s no regulation in health and in fact can cause more health inequalities. But the problem here is that should we focus on one more than another? I feel like there should be research and data to find the cost effectiveness for both factors in order to come up with the best solution for these issues.

  8. I really liked the fact that the Sreenivasan’s article discussed the importance of social determinants of health in opposition to health care. I would by no means argue that health care should be abandoned and all funds and efforts be put towards changing the social situations of people rather than providing them with medical attention, because there needs to be a balance between the 2. Attention needs to be paid to fixing the problem at hand as well as addressing the upstream cause of future problems. Equal emphasis on both of these aspects would make for an optimal and effective health care system. There is not enough emphasis placed on the importance of social determinants of health. The majority of health issues stem from behavioral issues and not genetic factors. Diet, exercise and stress alone have a HUGE impact on health and if more attention and funds were put towards addressing these kinds of issues we would have a much healthier community and population.

  9. I also had the opportunity to attend the CDC’s exhibit, “Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America” and would like to speak to your point of what seems like, overwhelming complexity. For something so necessary to life, our health, it seems unfair that politics, media, and big companies not only have overwhelming power to control health, but the power to influence in a poor way. As ethicists and future health-related workers, we should support these power houses that are being supporters of health. In a way, we must participate in the system to change the system (like voting!). I also believe that this alleviates the overwhelming feeling many of us feel when facing a complicated web this big.

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