Public Health and Human Rights, Evidence-Based Approaches

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Beyrer, Chris and Pizer, H. F. (Eds) (2007) Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 13:178-0-8018-8647-8. xxxi + 470 pp. Softcover.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the still infant United Nations on December 10, 1948, expressed the respect due to “all members of the human family” by virtue of their inherent worth and dignity. It's subsequent International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1967) re-emphasized the universality of civil, cultural, political and health rights deriving “from the inherent dignity of the human person.” This volume of 17 chapters by 40 authors is a valuable and enlightening reminder of the degree to which, as Jonathan Mann and colleagues noted in 1994, “… it may be useful to adopt the maxim that health policies and programs should be considered burdensome and discriminatory on human rights until proved otherwise.” The brief biographical vignettes of the contributors, themselves, touching on research and service in all of the world's regions, indicate the importance of advocacy as well as scientific acumen in protecting the freedoms and ensuring the health entitlements of populations at risk.A central message of this volume is that the realization of global health goals requires attention to population based research on the interaction of rights and disease. The AIDS epidemic in particular illustrates the way in which limited rights, restricted information, press censorship and deliberate government malfeasance, ignorance and ideology can impair needed medical care. Eleven of the chapters deal directly or indirectly with the transmission and treatment of HIV/AIDS. They include 2 studies of the Thai drug users network, a response to an iatrogenic epidemic among blood donors in central China, women's rights (trafficking in women, selling sex in Moscow, sexual violence in Sierra Leone, sexual rights in Burma), reducing harm in prisons, public health practice in Brazil, HIV prevention and illicit drug policy, and public health ethics in relation to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Other chapters deal with the health of internally displaced persons in Burma, genocide in Darfur, health and human rights in Afghanistan and Darfur, health information in the Democratic Republic of Congo and advocacy strategies supporting a right to health. Mental health specialists will find here much to reflect about.

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