This white paper considers whether and, if so, to what extent states are obligated under international treaty law to provide individuals, lay healthcare providers, professional healthcare providers, and policymakers with appropriate health information. The article concludes that health information is an essential component of many identified and established human rights. States party to treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights must provide and guarantee access to health information.
Appropriate health information fosters meaningful social and political participation and ensures that individuals achieve and enjoy the rights afforded to them by international human rights law. This article provides the international legal foundation for conducting additional, country-specific research on states’ compliance with their obligations concerning health information and generating concrete recommendations for what states can do to improve the provision of health information.
Access to information is directly protected in some of the issue-specific human rights treaties. For example, Article 10(h) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Women’s Convention), explicitly requires states to provide “[a]ccess to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.”
As a necessary precondition for the exercise of other rights, the fulfillment of information needs can also be protected as fully as the right itself. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), the international body charged with receiving state reports on their compliance with the ICESCR, has made clear in its General Comment No. 14 that the right to health extends “not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.” Thus, states must also protect access to information as an underlying determinant of the right to health and other rights.
The paper was written by Professor Molly Land (NYLS) and Dr Neil Pakenham-Walsh (Global Healthcare Information Network), with inputs from others. It can be read here.