Leaders appointed to champion health, human rights of the vulnerable

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For the first time, the world’s governing bodies have tasked a group of experts to expand the health and human rights of women, children and adolescents everywhere.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights named the new working group members Sept. 22. USC’s Sofia Gruskin, director of the Program on Global Health & Human Rights at the Institute for Global Health, joins as one of the five technical advisors who will guide forthcoming work.

Engaging two global development frameworks—the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescent’s Health—the novel working group aims to generate high-level political support and technical knowledge to embrace human rights-based implementation and accountability for the health of these populations.

“Together we aim to put first those who have previously come last. Health is not a luxury – it is a human right,” said rights expert Hina Jilani, who co-chairs the group with former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, in a press statement.

The working group became reality after it was initially announced by Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva last May.

“This working group marks a seismic shift and will generate high-level political commitment for the health and human rights of women, children and adolescents everywhere – even in the toughest of places,” she said. Bridging the technical – and mostly artificial – divide between public health delivery and human rights is vital to answering the Sustainable Development Goals’ call to leave no one behind, to address discrimination and inequality, and to ensure healthy lives for all.

In three meetings over the following year the group will meet to prepare findings and track progress they will present at the next World Health Assembly and Human Rights Council in May.

“I’m honored to take part in this landmark initiative,” said Gruskin, who holds a joint faculty appointment at the Keck School of Medicine and Gould School of Law. “By convening the world’s top human rights champions and public health leaders, we now have a real place at the global table; our research, our demands will be heard and addressed by the highest levels of government.”

In addition to Jilani and Halonen, the working group also includes Aminata Toure, former Prime Minister of Senegal; Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister for International Development and la Francophonie in Canada; Rosy Akbar, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation in Fiji; Cristina Lustemberg, Vice-Minister of Health in Uruguay; Natasha Despoja, gender ambassador of Australia; and Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet in the United Kingdom.

Joining Gruskin in the technical advisory group are Zulfiqar Bhutta, co-director of the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health and founding director of the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health at the Aga Khan University; Elly Leemhuis, senior advisor for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Pascale Allotey, professor of public health at Monash University in Malaysia; Maha Taysir Barakat, director general of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; and Lynn Freedman, professor of population and family health and director of Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program at Columbia University.


UN Photo/Martine Perret License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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