Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The right to health has been repeatedly recognized as one of the core human rights, essential for human functioning, human dignity, economic well-being and development. But the right to health continues to elude hundreds of millions and with Covid-19, perhaps billions of people. Poverty remains the most critical obstacle to the realization of the right to health in developing countries. Achieving universal health coverage, before the additional costs of Covid-19, would require roughly $50 billion per year, approximately 0.1 percent of the GDP of the high-income OECD countries. Yet despite this broad understanding of the vicious cycle of poverty and disease, and the means for scaling up health coverage and care, the international community has mustered only a laggard and insufficient response. In addition to the moral and economic imperatives to invest in the right to health, there is also a legal imperative grounded in binding international legal instruments, wherein States have undertaken to realize specific human rights, including through international assistance and cooperation. This chapter explores the legal basis for the universal right to health and the core obligation found in international law of all developed countries to assist in the realization of this core human right. Finally, it outlines possible steps that the international community can take to help achieve the right to health globally.


Health Law and Policy | Human Rights Law | International Humanitarian Law | International Law | Medicine and Health Sciences | Public Health