Human Rights and Global Health Funding- What Contribution Can the Right to Health Make to Sustaining and Extending International Assistance for Health

Lisa Forman, Donald C. Cole, Gorik Ooms, and Merrick Zwarenstein

Global health funding has experienced dramatic growth over the past decades, rising to unprecedented levels through the 2000s. Since the onset of the 2008 global recession, funding growth has significantly slowed down and in some cases regressed. In this paper we argue that the right to health and a rights-based approach to health may offer important norms, strategies and tools to sustain, supplement, and advance global health funding and to thereby mitigate persisting inter- and intra-country health inequities. This paper interrogates this thesis through the legal framework of the right to health, the theoretical perspective of social constructivism, and practical strategies where human rights have contributed towards progressive health outcomes within countries and in global fora. While many new institutional global health funders are non-state actors and therefore weakly bound under international human rights law, the predominant source of funding still comes from states, which are the primary human rights duty-bearers under international law. Accordingly, we argue that states hold international responsibilities to cooperate and assist in realizing the right to health in low and middle income countries (LMICs) and that this duty extends to providing international assistance for health. We set out five paths by which use of the human right to health might directly and indirectly advance funding for health and health services at the domestic and global levels: including rights-based litigation, rights-based social advocacy, development of the ethical content of the right to health, use of rights-based approaches to monitor and promote the right to health, and developing a new legal paradigm of funding essential health services globally. We conclude that human rights and the right to health can offer important tools to health policy-makers and civil society actors alike to address inadequate resource allocations to health at various levels.