Health systems and the right to health: an assessment of 194 countries

Lancet. 2008 Dec 13;372(9655):2047-85. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61781-X.


60 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundations for the right to the highest attainable standard of health. This right is central to the creation of equitable health systems. We identify some of the right-to health features of health systems, such as a comprehensive national health plan, and propose 72 indicators that reflect some of these features. We collect globally processed data on these indicators for 194 countries and national data for Ecuador, Mozambique, Peru, Romania, and Sweden. Globally processed data were not available for 18 indicators for any country, suggesting that organisations that obtain such data give insufficient attention to the right-to-health features of health systems. Where they are available, the indicators show where health systems need to be improved to better realise the right to health. We provide recommendations for governments, international bodies, civil-society organisations, and other institutions and suggest that these indicators and data, although not perfect, provide a basis for the monitoring of health systems and the progressive realisation of the right to health. Right-to-health features are not just good management, justice, or humanitarianism, they are obligations under human-rights law.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Developing Countries*
  • Global Health
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration
  • National Health Programs / standards*
  • National Health Programs / statistics & numerical data
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Nations / standards*