Health, human rights, and humanitarian tensions
Humanitarian organisations promote the indisputable right to health, but this isn't always an easy bedfellow with advancing human rights. Edward John Lloyd Armstrong and Maria Kett explain
- By: Edward John Lloyd Armstrong, Maria Kett
Many medical students and junior doctors have the charitable intention of working for humanitarian organisations at some point in their careers. With today's globalised media, the health and human rights consequences for people experiencing humanitarian disasters are clear to us all. Inhumane images from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Bosnia in the past, and Darfur, Iraq, and Congo today have prompted and continue to provoke medical professionals into temporary attachments abroad with non-governmental organisations. But before rushing off with the altruistic urge to restore the health of people subjected to poverty, conflict, and human rights abuses, you should step back. The ideals of humanitarianism do not always sit comfortably with trying to uphold the human right to health.
In the past 50 years, non-governmental organisations have evolved from small community groups into global businesses, with well known brands. Church collections to help war widows and wounded have become multibillion pound industries. Last