Note from the editor: In this article, published to observe Human Rights Day, International Medical Corps reflects on the importance of health as a human right. We also share some examples from the frontlines, where our committed healthcare workers put theory into practice, helping people who have had their lives ripped apart by conflict to access healthcare.
After the unspeakable horrors of World War II, the international community came together at the United Nations and agreed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that each and every one of us has innate value, just by virtue of being alive. In theory, human rights apply equally to all people—everywhere, without distinction. However, in our work on the frontlines of war and disaster, International Medical Corps is painfully aware that, in reality, millions of people around the world—particularly in communities affected by conflict—find basic human rights devastatingly unattainable.
One of many things that is taken away from the men, women and children caught up in a humanitarian crisis is their access to healthcare.
As an aid-organization that provides medical assistance, the right to health—either as a standalone right or as a catalyst for other rights fundamental to dignity and resilience—is an essential component of our mission. The right to good health is so much more than accessing healthcare or the absence of disease. Without good health, a person’s ability to exercise other rights crucial to self-fulfilment and dignity is curtailed. Viewed in this way, good health is a gateway to other rights—a prerequisite to everything from gender equality to education.
Examples from the Frontlines
In Mersin, a city in south-eastern Turkey, committed International Medical Corps health workers assist Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have been forced from their homes due to relentless conflict, providing them with medical and mental health assistance, including rehabilitation services.
These are just a few examples. For a mother-to-be, it begins with the right to a safe pregnancy and delivery. For the very youngest, it starts with a safe birth, followed by access to nutrition and vaccinations. Whether in the presence of a humanitarian crisis or not, the road to self-fulfillment begins with good health. For 35 years, International Medical Corps has helped devastated communities rebuild and grow self-reliant—so we know that it can be done. And we know that, every time, it begins with health.
*The boys’ names have been changed to protect their identity.