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Right to health during pandemic

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If you are down to earth in your good times, bad times rarely fall upon you.
-Ancient Indian Proverb.

The topic of “Right to health during pandemic” reminds us the importance of this proverb born out of age-old wisdom. The concept of “Right to health” encompasses so many factors which are not necessarily physical but still is an abstract and blurred concept devoid of any specific definition.

Absence of any disease and ability to enjoy life to the fullest are the two basic criterions on which this whole of Right to health stands. It varies according to geography also. What is a healthy condition for an African need not be necessarily the same for an Eskimo.

Still, some conventions and covenants and international agreements like Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) have this concept of Right to health included in their charters.

It should be noted that all of the above charters have a backdrop of the most devastating after-war effects of the-never-seen-before second world war. Obviously, everybody then needed some utopian and lofty principles to state so as to shake-off the guilt of mindless war games. So came into being, these all conventions, covenants and agreements. India, being a signatory to all these, honours the “Right to Health”

By enlarging the scope of Article 21 of our Constitution which deals with Right to life and personal liberty, we have included this “Right to Health” citing that Right to life is meaningless if it is devoid of a healthy and free life.

But the concept is not clear in terms of what is the correct meaning of health. It is mentioned that this right is as per universal minimum standard of health, entitled to every individual and it is categorized as economic, social and cultural right. Also, there is no mention of the institution on which the liability of implementation of this right lies.

Every right creates corresponding liabilities with it. In our democratic setup this liability is on the state. Theoretically, state is governed by the people’s representatives and so, ultimately, the liability lies with “We, the people”.

Whatever the lacuna’s, the concept is a lofty principle for a civilized world and if implemented in letter and spirit, the topic of our essay becomes “mutually exclusive”.

It means that these two conditions, i.e., right of health and pandemic can’t exist simultaneously. The existence of one excludes or precludes the existence of the other, at the same time.

The preamble of the 1946 World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution defines health broadly as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”[1] 

The Constitution defines the right to health as “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health,” and enumerates some principles of this right as healthy child development; equitable dissemination of medical knowledge and its benefits; and government-provided social measures to ensure adequate health.

The definition is full of terms which, in legal language can’t be termed as clear and specific. Also, they encompass such a vast arena ranging from physical and mental well-being to social well-being. In short, it describes “THE UTOPIA.”

All over the world the nations try to provide for their citizens whatever is possible and also try to create ambience for personal development with available resources with them.

So, the point is, if the right to health concept had been earnestly implemented then there would have been very rare chance of a pandemic. Still, we see waves of different pandemics hitting the world with varying degree of severity averaging per a quarter of century years.[2]

Sadly, this COVID -19 (Coronavirus-19) pandemic has hit earlier than the average years. The SARS pandemic hit in 2003 and just after 16 years, this COVID-19 hit us in 2019. One interesting observation is that both these pandemics trace their origin to China, the most criticized ‘Bad boy’ of the world.

This shows that, the following or to be more precise, lack of following of the coveted “Right to Health” by world nations.

But this is not also secular and uniform. There is a clear-cut divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’.

After looting and enslaving Asia and Africa for over two centuries, the Europeans and Americans are calling the shots and preaching others about health, setting standards for health according to their notions. From the measurements of waist to weight-for- particular height tables, you will find everything standardized by the USA, including what is the “Right to Health”.

Guided, coerced and Funded directly or discreetly, by the giant pharma companies, the United States Food and Drugs Authority (USFDA) decides and labels what is healthy and what is not.

With this data as a backdrop, we have to discuss the Right to health during pandemic.

It will be our cardinal sin, even if we are facing worst outbreak of the pandemic, if we restrict the ambit of the “Right to health” to getting ambulances on time, getting beds in the hospitals, getting oxygen or ventilators and yes, the much touted by semi-literates, ‘Remdesivir’ injections. Also, the vaccination drive and the lacunas in it, the non-availability of vaccines has attracted the filing of cases under Public Interest Litigations (PIL) from overzealous activists. Yes, at present these occupy our space, in mind and in reality, but they form a very miniscule part of the original concept of “Right to Health”.

The” Right to Health” is universal and EVER right, pandemic or no pandemic.

To underline the importance of the permanent and ever nature of the same, let us examine one statistical data and then deduce some plausible conclusion from it.

For decades, Tuberculosis or TB, as it is commonly known is a dreaded and is an airborne bacterial disease and tenth cause of death, worldwide, ranking above AIDS and Narcotic drug overdose deaths.[3]

India hosts nearly 25 % of world’s patients of TB.[4] Worldwide TB has claimed nearly 1.42 Million lives in 2019. These are normal figures when we consider TB as a Non-pandemic disease.

To get a proper perspective, the reported death figure of 17-month-old COVID-19 pandemic is 3.3 Million, and remember we have declared and are  fighting COVID-19 as a pandemic.

Now in the current pandemic of COVID-19, the World Health Organization has prescribed the use of masks as one of the most effective way to safeguard oneself from the virus.

The interesting point to note in the above news is that as per experts in medical field, by just using the same masks for battling COVID-19, we may eliminate the TB in four years from now, flat. It is totally unintended co lateral yet surprise fall out of this battle with COVID-19.

It requires no brilliant legal mind to ask a simple question, then why the masks were not recommended and used for the TB, before the onset of COVID-19.

The answer lies in the fact that the growth of drugs that are treated for TB, is annually growing at a compounding rate of 4.6%and will reach a staggering USD 1432 Million, in 2024.[5]

Isn’t it astonishing that Nobody, not even the WHO and ever vigilant legal luminaries who boast of themselves as protector-of-all-kinds-of-rights demanded the use of masks till before the pandemic?

Join the dots and you will get the right picture of the “Right to Health” and the ground reality.

It will be very naïve to suppose that it is just coincidence of Serum Institute being denied the raw material first for making COVISHIELD by American suppliers, then there is constant news of blood clotting by AstraZeneca vaccine (i.e., Covishield) in Europe and then the disturbance in India’s ambitious vaccination drives due to shortage of vaccines and cacophony for allowing foreign vaccines urgently.

This is to make groundwork to pave way for foreign vaccines which the government-of-the-day is denying steadfastly.

The public opinion is swayed scientifically and systematically. Sadly, the rights have become a convenient tool to throw a spanner-in-the-wheel. The media seldomly sees through the designs of these international players and plays the role of hypnotized children following the pied piper.

To sum up, we can conclude that “Right to Health” is not a passing phenomenon which comes with pandemic and goes with it. In most cases, the proper honouring of the right will result in either non-occurrence of the pandemic or if at all it happens, early and effective eradication of it by concerned and consorted efforts of the state, the NGO’s, the corporate and all other stakeholders.

The pandemic has taught us a very costly lesson and shown us the result of denying the “Right to Health” in a very harsh way.


[1] Constitution of the World Health Organization (PDF). Geneva: World Health Organization. 1948. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 March 2014.

[2] https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline

[3] https://tbfacts.org/deaths-from-tb/

[4] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/masks-for-covid-may-end-up-eliminating-tb-by-2025-target/articleshow/77774414.cms

[5] https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/05/03/1495704/0/en/Global-Tuberculosis-TB-Drugs-Market-Is-expected-to-Witness-a-CAGR-of-4-6-During-2018-2024.html

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