Large numbers of children all over the world face significant health risks, such as infectious and chronic diseases, malnutrition, injuries and the consequences of natural disasters, protracted armed conflicts and poverty. Every year, 4 million babies die within the first month of their life and almost 8 million children under the age of five die from preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, measles and diarrhoea. These general statistics do not reveal the underlying inequalities in health between and within countries. One of the causes of the inequalities is that, in many countries, vulnerable groups of children have no or only limited access to adequate health care facilities.
A central problem in the realization of the right to health of the child is the interpretation of ‘the highest attainable standard of health’ of children. The vagueness of the concept of ‘the highest attainable standard of health’ makes it difficult to identify the elements of the right to health that must be prioritized for implementation in a country’s health policy. Secondly, the realization of the right to the highest attainable standard of health is dependent upon the (limited) financial resources available. Thirdly, the realization of children’s right to the highest attainable standard of health depends on both situational circumstances and individual characteristics such as the genetic predisposition and lifestyle of both the parents and the child. Unclear is therefore what elements of the right to the highest attainable standard of health fall under the responsibility of the State and what the responsibilities are of medical professionals, the parents and the child itself.
This research aims to identify the standards in international law for realizing the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Can we speak of progressive standards and if so, how can they be enforced?
The central questions that will be analysed in this thesis are:
(a) what priorities derive from the concept of the highest attainable standard of health of the child, its definition and the interpretation of the key constituent elements on the basis of international human rights law?
(b) how should this concept be implemented in the light of the international human rights standards?
The following sub questions will be answered in the subsequent chapters:
III. What priorities related to the right to the highest attainable standard of health of the child can be derived from the interpretation found in the international health and human rights law? What is the additional value of this body of law for the interpretation of the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the children’s rights domain?
Dr. Sarah Spronk, MSc. LL.M
Head of Policy, Press and Culture Affairs
Embassy of the Netherlands in Argentina