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Health and Human Rights

Human rights are basic principles that every person is entitled to from birth to death. They encompass civil, economic, political, cultural, and social rights, and within these principles lies health. Let's explore how health and human rights are interrelated.

Relationship between health and human rights

Human rights and health go hand in hand because the right to health is seen as a human right. The World Health Organization states that:

... the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being. ¹

Through this understanding of health as a human right creates an obligation for countries to ensure access to affordable and appropriate quality of health care as well as factors that influence health such as safe water, sanitation, food, housing, health education and gender equality.

Health and human rights A-level Geography

For health and human rights in A-level Geography, the topics to cover would be indicators of human development, the roles of governments and IGOs in health and human rights, the definitions and understandings of human rights, interventions into human rights such as development aid.

Measurements of human development and health

Human development is part of protecting human rights and analysis with strategic interventions are used. The definition of what constitutes human development is contested by how many ways there are to measure it. The word 'development' itself implies progress is being made. This progress is traditionally measured using economic data, in particular GDP and the shift from primary industries such as farming towards manufacturing and the service sector. Other methods of measuring development look at life expectancy and well-being. By exploring the many measurements of human development, we can see the various views on it.

Health and Human Rights: Life expectancy

Life expectancy determines the average age of death within a given population. It is a vital metric that determines the health and development of a population, as higher life expectancies suggest better healthcare, sanitation, and access to basic needs such as food, water and shelter. Many of the richer countries, such as Japan, Spain, and Switzerland have life expectancies of over 83 years. The Central African Republic has the lowest life expectancy of 53 years (statistics from 2019).²

Health and Human Rights: Gross Domestic Product

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of goods and services produced by a country in a year. It is calculated by combining the value of all the finished goods produced with the value of services such as tourism and banking, divided by population. This produces a per capita, per person value. GDP is converted to US dollars, so there can be comparisons between countries.

Health and Human Rights Chart showing the GDP in England over the years StudySmarter

Health and Human Rights: Gini coefficient

Gini coefficient is an indicator that measures economic inequality. The measure indicates the extent to which income distribution deviates from perfect equality. This means the Gini coefficient score of 0 indicates perfect equality (everyone has the same income), whilst 1 indicates maximum inequality (one person has all the wealth). Despite the US having one of the highest levels of income per capita, it has a high Gini coefficient score. Compared to the US, Finland and Sweden have a similarly high level of income per capita, yet they have relatively low Gini coefficient scores. This could be because of lower inequalities due to the tax system that redistributes wealth across the country. ³

Human Development Index (HDI)

The Human Development Index was devised by the United Nations to show progress through people and their capabilities. HDI uses more than one indicator and is a composite measure of four data sets.

  • Life expectancy
  • Education (literacy and average length of schooling which are seen as two different data sets)
  • GDP per capita (in US$ PPP)

It is calculated by converting each indicator into an index figure with a value ranging from 0 to 1. The three index figures are then averaged, giving us the HDI. In 2019 the highest scoring HDI country was Norway. This was due to a stable government, widespread education and healthcare, high life expectancy and growing, powerful economies. The lowest-scoring country was Niger, with contributory factors such as an unstable government, low income, and low life expectancy with high birth rates. Lack of access to healthcare and education were also seen as contributing to this poor score.4 As you can see, health is integral to this index.

The Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index is a measure of sustainable well-being. This combines environmental data on sustainability with social data on satisfaction and health.

The three indicators used are:

  • Life expectancy
  • The experience of well-being
  • Ecological footprint

The calculation is as follows: experience of well-being x life expectancy / ecological footprint. The scores are indicated with a measurement between 0 to 100.

Health and Human Rights Happy Planet Index shown on the world map StudySmarterThe Happy Planet Index across the world. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/

Mental health and human rights

Traditionally growth is measured through a country's economic wealth, as the wealthier the country, the more money can be spent on infrastructure, education, and development. However, in indices such as the Happy Planet Index, the experience of well-being is an index of human development. Having good mental health is also an important factor in human development.

How are human rights an important aspect of both international law and agreements?

Human rights are moral principles describing certain standards of human behaviour, and are thus protected as legal rights in national and international law. Although the concept of 'natural rights' had already been around, the concept of human rights became prominent during the 17th and 18th centuries, during the Enlightenment, and the American and French revolutions. 'Natural rights' are basic rights that include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as written in the American Declaration of Independence.

With the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nation in 1948, human rights became a precondition for the possibility of a just society. In the UK, the European Convention on Human Rights has built a framework for Human Rights laws.

The European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the human rights of people who are within the countries that belong to the council of Europe. It was founded in 1949, to help establish better relationships between the countries following the Second World War. It consists of 47 member states. This convention has had significant influence and is considered one of the most effective international treaties for human rights protection. It consists of 14 articles each protecting a basic right such as:

  • a right to life
  • the prohibition of slavery and torture
  • the right to a fair trial
  • freedom of expression

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established in 1948 by the United Nations, which set up the Commission on Human Rights. This declaration lists 30 articles that define basic 'human rights', and states that these rights should be protected by law.

Human Rights Act of 1998

The Human Rights Act of 1998, based on the European Convention of Human Rights, allows UK residents (regardless of their citizenship) to defend their rights in UK courts and compels public organisations, including the government, police and local councils, to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.

Health and human rights issues

The attitudes toward human rights differ among countries, as some may prioritise economic growth. The argument for this, used by countries such as China, is that human rights follow economic development. Democratic countries tend to put high importance on human rights. For instance, the Scandinavian countries are ranked as 'free' on the 'Freedom in the World' index, which means that they respect political competition and civil liberties. On the other hand, countries such as Saudi Arabia, believe that the concept of human rights violates the sacred law of Islam. Therefore, Muslim countries signed their own Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990, instead of being involved with the universal declaration of human rights.

Human rights can also vary within countries due to inequality between genders and ethnicities. These factors are influenced by governmental laws and policies, as well as the situation in countries post-colonisation. Human rights tend to be violated due to poverty, lack of education, and lack of law enforcement, which ties in with human development.

Health, human rights and intervention

Breaches of human rights have led to international law and international agreements. In other cases, there has been intervention from other countries in the defence of human rights. There are usually four forms of intervention: development aid, trade embargo, military aid, and military action, often by superpowers and other developed countries. This can help by improving the quality of people's lives, leading to the improvement of their health and human rights, but it can also cause restrictions, such as limiting trade.

Development aid for health and human rights

Development aid is often in the form of subsidies. The goal can be to help with the economic, social, and environmental development of the given country. For example, the funding to stop malaria spreading. However, it is not always positive. There have been negative consequences such as aid dependency, corruption, and the wealthy or political elite using it for their own agenda.

Health and Human Rights - Key takeaways

  • Human rights and health go hand in hand because the right to health is seen as a human right.
  • Human development has been traditionally measured using economic data, in particular GDP.
  • Gini coefficient, the Human Development Index, and the Happy Planet Index are all measures of human development progress with different indicators.
  • Human rights are protected as legal rights in national and international law.
  • The European Convention on Human Rights has influenced UK human rights laws.

1. World Health Organization, Human Rights and Health, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-rights-and-health

2. Our World in Data, Life Expectancy, https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy

3. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, How Does US Income Inequality Compare Worldwide, https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2017/october/how-us-income-inequality-compare-worldwide

4. World Population Review, Human Development Index, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/hdi-by-country

Frequently Asked Questions about Health and Human Rights

There are more than ten, among them: 

  • The right to health.
  • The right to life.
  • The right to freedom from torture and inhumane treatment.
  • The right to equal treatment before the law.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right to asylum.
  • The right to marry and have family.
  • The right to freedom of thought, religion, opinion, and expression.
  • The right to work.
  • The right to education.
  • The right to social services.

The Human Rights Act lets you defend your rights in UK courts and compels public organisations, including the government, police and local councils, to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are the international standards for business and human rights.

The three main causes of human rights violations are poverty, lack of education, and lack of law enforcement.

Health and human rights have a relationship as health is a fundamental human right. Understanding of health as a human right creates an obligation for countries to ensure access to affordable and appropriate quality of health care as well as factors that influence health such as safe water, sanitation, food, housing, health education and gender equality.

Final Health and Human Rights Quiz

Question

How has human development been measured traditionally?

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Answer

Human development has been traditionally measured using economic data, in particular GDP and the shift from primary industry such as farming towards manufacturing and the service sector.

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Question

What does GDP stand for and what is it measuring?


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Answer

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of goods and services produced by a country in a year.

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How is GDP calculated?


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Answer

It is calculated by combining the value of all the finished goods produced with the value of services such as tourism and banking. GDP is converted to US dollars so there can be comparisons between countries. It is divided by population to give a per capita, per person value.

Show question

Question

What is the Gini coefficient and what does it measure?


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Answer

Gini coefficient is an indicator that measures economic inequality. The measure indicates the extent to which income distribution deviates from perfect equality.

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Question

What is the Human Development Index?


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Answer

The Human Development Index was devised by the UN to show progress through people and their capabilities.

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Question

What are the indicators used for Human Development Index?


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Answer

Life expectancy, education (literacy and average length of schooling), and GDP per capita (in US$ PPP).

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Question

What are the indicators used for Human Development Index?

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Life expectancy, education (literacy and average length of schooling), and GDP per capita (in US$ PPP).

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What is the Happy Planet Index?


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Answer

The Happy Planet Index is a measure of sustainable well-being.

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Which indicators is the Happy Planet Index measured by?


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Life expectancy, the experience of well-being, and ecological footprint.

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How is the Happy Planet Index calculated?


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Answer

The experience of well-being x life expectancy / ecological footprint.

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Question

Which convention has built a framework for human rights laws in the UK?


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Answer

In the UK, the European Convention on Human Rights has built a framework for Human Rights laws.

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What is the European Convention on Human Rights?


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Answer

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the human rights of people who are within the countries that belong to the council of Europe.

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Why was the European Convention on Human Rights founded?


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Answer

It was founded in 1949, to help establish better relationships between the countries following the Second World War.

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Question

What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

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Answer

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established after the Second World War by the United Nations, when it set up the Commission on Human Rights. This declaration lists 30 articles that define basic 'human rights' and states that these rights should be protected by law.

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What are development indicators? 

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Answer

Measures that show different levels of development in different countries.

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What is Human Development? 

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Answer

Improving the well-being of a population. 

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Who coined Human Development and when? 

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Answer

Dr Mahbub ul Haq in 1970

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Question

What is the Gini coefficient?

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Answer

The Gini coefficient is an indicator that measures economic inequality. 

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Question

What is the HDI?

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Answer

Human Development Index

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Question

What are the 3 indicators used for the Human Development Index?


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Answer

Quality of health (life expectancy)

Education Index (average years in education and expected years of education)

Standard of living (Gross National Income GNI).

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Who ranks top in the world for the HDI?

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Answer

Norway

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Question

What is the Happy Planet Index?

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Answer

The Happy Planet Index is a measure of sustainable well-being. It uses 3 data sets:

Life expectancy

Well-being

Ecological footprint

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Are there more advantages or more disadvantages for the HDI?

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Answer

Disadvantages 

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The HDI should be used on its own as an accurate way to measure human development.

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Answer

False

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What example could be used to show how religion can affect human development?

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Answer

Sharia Law

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What example could be used to show how government types can affect human development?

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Answer

North Korea's dictatorship. 

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Question

Who was Juan Evo Morales and what did he do?

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Answer

Juan Evo Morales was the first Bolivian President to come from its indigineous majority. He was a socialist who used his left wing philosophy with traditional Andean values of communal ownership and cooperation.

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Why is education an important indicator for human development?

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Answer

Education is vital for economic development and is seen as an investment in human capital alongside health. It is also key to understanding and asserting human rights and to democratic participation.

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What are financial IGOs?

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Financial IGOs are the international organisations that engage with economic growth, working with debt, investment for development, exchange stability and trade across the world.

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What are the three financial IGOs that were established after the second world war that control the rules of world trade and financial flows?

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Answer

 -The World Bank (WB)

-The World Trade Organisation (WTO)

-The International Monetary Fund (IMF) 

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What does the World Bank do?

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The World Bank is the largest source of development assistance. It lends money to fund economic development to reduce poverty and has helped countries to connect to the global economy.

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What fund did the World Bank establish to achieve the Millenium Development Goals?

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Answer

The World Bank is one of the founding members of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) established in 2002. It was created to achieve the Millenium Development Goals that the UN had set for the new millennium.

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What is the aim of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)?

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The aim of the GPE is to provide investment for the early childhood education for all children and to develop a sound educational system through developing early literacy skills. It also helps set up reading assessment systems that can measure progress.

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Who do the GPE focus on?

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The focus for GPE is on the most disadvantaged children so education for girls, children with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

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What is The Climate Change Action Plan?

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The Climate Change Action Plan was launched in 2016 as the new initiative of the World Bank. It aims to support climate action of developing countries such as India, who is trying to produce 40% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and is supporting the establishment of two large solar parks.

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What is the World Trade Organisation?

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Answer

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) works on countries to agree on the same terms to help create free trade. They also deal with reducing barriers to free trade through trying to persuade countries to reduce tariffs on goods and services.

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What negative results do WTO policies have?

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Answer

WTO policies promote increase of trade as a way of growing economic development and reducing debt. However these policies have negative results such as environmental degradation from rainforest clearance and forest land being cleared for crops.

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Where can negative results from the WTO policies be seen?

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Effects can be seen in places like Indonesia where rainforest clearance has led to the fast growing palm oil production market.

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What have the WTO done to challenge the negative results of their policies?


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Trade policies now are trying to change the environmental problems by restricting international movement of products or species that are harmful or endangered. Also challenging the trade agreements that have implications for climate change such as forest clearance.

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What is the International Monetary Fund?


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The International Monetary Fund is an organisation with 183 member countries. They work with developing countries to accept foreign direct investment (FDI) and open up economies to free trade.They also provide temporary financial assistance for countries to help ease balance of payments adjustment.

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What are Structural Adjustment Programmes?

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Structural Adjustment Programmes consists of loans from the IMF and the World Bank to countries that were experiencing economic crises.

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What negative effects could Structural Adjustment Programmes have to the State they are trying to support?


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Answer

The SAPs would force the State to play a reduced part in the economy, through means such as privatisation of the State water or energy company or reductions in government spending on education or health. 

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How have the IMF changed its focus since the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)?


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Answer

From the 2000 due to the focus of MDGs, IMF has shifted the focus to global poverty with the poverty reduction programme. Instead of imposing the conditions, countries develop their own medium term development plans to receive aid, loans and debt relief.

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What does the term 'life expectancy' mean?

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Answer

It refers to the average number of years that a person is expected to live. This is based on a number of factors such as year of birth, current age, sex, and demographic location

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What is your life expectancy dependent on?

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It is very dependent on demographic conditions, which is why you often see people in less developed countries to have a lower life expectancy than those living in more developed countries.

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Question

What does LEB stand for and what is its meaning?


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LEB stands for life expectancy at birth. 


It is defined as an average of how long a new-born can expect to live, providing that the current death rates do not change

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Question

What does cohort life expectancy mean?


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Answer

The cohort life expectancy is the average life length of a particular cohort.


This life expectancy is calculated by observing a combination of mortality rates for the past years and future projections about mortality rates for the specific cohort in the coming years

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What does period life expectancy mean?


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Answer

It It looks at mortality rates from a single year or a group of years and assume that those rates apply throughout the remainder of a person's life. What that means is that any future changes in mortality rate are not taking into account

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What does HALE stand for and what is its meaning?


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HALE stands for health-adjusted life expectancy.


It is the average number of years that a person is expected to live in good health. That means years that this person is not suffering from disabling illness or injuries


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Question

Why is it important to look at environmental risks when talking about life expectancy?


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Answer

The environment directly affects health status and plays a significant role in quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities.


A study by the WHO has shown that 1 in 4 deaths are linked to unhealthy environments 

Show question

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