Centers Designated WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights

On October 13, 2006, the Centers celebrated its unique status as a WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights with a scholarly event at Georgetown University Law Center, co-chaired by Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D. (Hon.), Director, and Stephen P. Teret, J.D., M.P.H., Director, and attended by Centers colleagues, special guests, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins faculty members, and students at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities.

PAHO Director General Dr. Mirta Roses Periago addressed the assemblage. An excerpt of her presentation is restated below. For a complete transcript and other information from PAHO concerning the event, please link here.

“This event today, for us, for the PAHO and WHO family is historical. It is the first time that these organizations formally [establish] a center dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of health [to address] many different health strategies and initiatives in the Americas and in the rest of the world. However, there is also another important difference this time. The [Centers] in collaboration with PAHO and WHO will use, for the most part, human rights instruments and standards (which are not “health instruments per se” or the “traditional public health approach”) that have proved to be another important and effective tool for the promotion and protection of health.

Health is fundamental to human well-being and social and economic development. Some degree of physical and mental health is essential in order to participate in the civil, political, economic and social affairs of civil society. At the same time, the exercise of human right such as personal liberty, privacy, work, and education (among others) [is] essential to enjoy mental and physical well being. It is in recognition of this fact that the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (also known as “the right to health”) and other fundamental rights such as the right to life and the right to physical, mental and moral integrity, are enshrined in many international treaties, conventions and guidelines. In fact, the Constitution of the World Health Organization which was signed in 1946 by 61 States establishes that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”. I think that it is relevant to go back to our own history, in order to be aware of the fascinating links among health, human rights and public health laws that we have been able to observe in PAHO. . . . “

A special presentation on HIV/AIDS and human rights was also given by Dr. Chris Beyrer, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights. Panel presentations on health governance were given by Centers Senior Scholars, Professors David Fidler and Scott Burris, and human rights challenges by Javier Vasquez, Human Rights Specialist, PAHO.


Among the many projects and activities of the Centers and its colleagues since the inception of its collaborating center status with WHO and PAHO is the following:

  • WHO has begun developing two databases compiling information about health and human rights. The first provides access to existing international instruments, constitutions and case law on the “right to health” and other key health-related rights (the “Law Database”). It aims to demonstrate the extent to which these rights have been enshrined and how they have been articulated and interpreted. The second database provides access to existing published literature on health and human rights in the form of an annotated bibliography (the ” Bibliography Database”). Under an agreement with WHO, the Centers and others will develop and maintain these databases.
  • Lawrence Gostin and others have been working with Ian Smith, in the Director General’s Office of WHO, on global health governance, particularly the Framework Convention on Global Health. The project has begun planning preparation of a series of white papers on key issues and instruments in global health governance. From these efforts may come a meeting to consider methods for bringing the problem of global health governance to the world’s attention.
  • Lawrence Gostin chaired a WHO subcommittee on law and pandemic influenza for WHO and co-authored the background paper with Ben Berkman.
  • Scott Burris is a member of the Knowledge Network on Urban Settings for the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health for which he co-wrote a report and a paper on healthy urban governance. See Emerging Principles of Healthy Urban Governance (Thematic Paper 5 of the Knowledge Network on Urban Settings, WHO Centre for Health Development, 2008); and, Burris, S., T. Hancock, V. Lin, and A. Herzog. 2007. Emerging Strategies for Healthy Urban Governance. J. Urban Health 84 (Suppl. 1):154-63.).
  • Lance Gable traveled to Jamaica as human rights experts, speaking on conferences on HIV and human rights sponsored by PAHO and UNAIDS.
  • The World Health Organization, in partnership with ILS Law College, put together a web-based certificate program in international mental health law and human rights. Lawrence Gostin and Lance Gable developed a module concerning criminal law and mental health, and will serve as instructors for this online course.
  • Lawrence Gostin conducted a site visit for PAHO on health and human rights at the Supreme Court of Argentina in 2007.
  • Ben Berkman participated in a workshop at WHO HQ on access to essential medicines in September 2006.
  • Lawrence Gostin, Lance Gable, and Ben Berkman provided comments on the WHO Toolkit for Monitoring Human Rights Conditions in Mental Health Facilities.
  • Lawrence Gostin is on the WHO Expert Committee on the IHR and the WHO Advisory Committee on mental health.
  • Scott Burris participated in a UNAIDS Expert Consultation on the Criminalization of HIV, and is presently on the Subcommittee on Criminalization of the Global Reference Group on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights.

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