Those concerned with poverty and health have sometimes viewed equity and human rights as abstract concepts with little practical application, and links between health, equity and human rights have not been examined systematically. Examination of the concepts of poverty, equity, and human rights in relation to health and to each other demonstrates that they are closely linked conceptually and operationally and that each provides valuable, unique guidance for health institutions' work. Equity and human rights perspectives can contribute concretely to health institutions' efforts to tackle poverty and health, and focusing on poverty is essential to operationalizing those commitments. Both equity and human rights principles dictate the necessity to strive for equal opportunity for health for groups of people who have suffered marginalization or discrimination. Health institutions can deal with poverty and health within a framework encompassing equity and human rights concerns in five general ways: (1) institutionalizing the systematic and routine application of equity and human rights perspectives to all health sector actions; (2) strengthening and extending the public health functions, other than health care, that create the conditions necessary for health; (3) implementing equitable health care financing, which should help reduce poverty while increasing access for the poor; (4) ensuring that health services respond effectively to the major causes of preventable ill-health among the poor and disadvantaged; and (5) monitoring, advocating and taking action to address the potential health equity and human rights implications of policies in all sectors affecting health, not only the health sector.