Image: King College London,  project Emerald (emerging mental health systems in low- and middle-income countries)

One of the key sessions  I attended at the second day of “The world in denial: Global mental health matters”( March 26-27, 2013, Royal Society of Medicine, London) highlighted the existing legal tools available to achieve international recognition of the Right to Health,  AND the problems of getting mental health included in this framework.  In particular how including it under disability has implications for access to treatment. This blog summarizes the session and puts information into context with current events, including the 66th World Health Assembly recommendations.

There was much I learnt that day, yet  of much I was already aware, as CABI’s Global Health
database has 20,000 records on mental health, 25% of them
focussed on developing countries. One of the eye-openers for me was an
understanding of the various legal tools dealing with international
recognition of the Right to Health
and the problems of getting mental health included in this framework;
how including it under disability has implications for access to

This is what I learnt, put simply, from talks given by Professor Norman Sartorius (President of World Psychiatric Association) and Gunilla Backman (Former health adviser SIDA & Editor, The right to health: theory and practice).


Basic Human rights: these are not defined or not universally accepted


There are 5 categories of  documents related to human rights


   I have summarised the categories for you as:

1. Conventions
UN or international covenants: countries sign and then must abide by them

2. Declarations:
1948 UN declaration of human rights:
referred to by everyone (individuals, academics and government
policymakers) BUT not obligatory AND a choice of 2 different documents
for countries to choose from!
[One favoured by USA, one by Russia, each with different emphasis].
Under this banner, has come human genome project, opportunities for the
disabled, protection of people with mental illness AND right to

3. UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Health, annual reports:
The 1st
rapporteur was appointed in 2002, changed hands in 2009, and is held by a
human rights lawyer. Role: “to raise the profile of the Right to
Health as a fundamental human right; to clarify what the Right to Health
means; and to identify ways of operationalizing this human right”. Acknowledges that mental health is most neglected of all human rights.

4. Regional instruments:

• WHO mental health declaration for Europe (valid only in Europe)

• American convention of human rights

• Banjul African charter of human & people’s rights

Arab charter on human rights

5. Non-binding standards, guidelines & declarations: these depend on
an individual’s application of them in health practice and also on
medical societies.

You can read more in  the Global Health Knowledge Base blog  Right to Health and mental health which forms part of June's e-newsletter with the theme Global Mental Health.

Related articles

New Guide to Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights
World Health Organization's 66th WHA Closes Today: Universal Health Coverage And Mental Health Key Topics
Government spending and human rights
Debating Human Rights History


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