"Health for all, primary healthcare, universal health coverage and sustainable development goals are empty shells without timely access to and availability of health information."
Dr Najeeb Al-Shorbaji, former Director of the Knowledge, Ethics and Research Department at the World Health Organization, Geneva
Today, 1.3 billion people lack access to basic health care services. And many more are at risk of receiving poor quality care. A major contributing factor is lack of availability and use of relevant, reliable healthcare information.
The World Health Organization defines Universal Health Coverage as “all people have access to needed promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that people do not suffer financial hardship when paying for these services”.
Meeting the information needs of citizens, health professionals and policymakers is a prerequisite for Universal Health Coverage. Access to health information is a key determinant of the Right to Health and the right to receive promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services according to need.
Access to Health Information Under International Human Rights Law
From 2008-2012, HIFA collaborated with the New York Law School to evaluate access to healthcare information under international human rights law. This included a thematic discussion on the HIFA forum, which is summarised here. The findings were published in December 2012 as a White Paper: Access to Health Information Under International Human Rights Law. The paper considers whether and, if so, to what extent states are obligated under international treaty law to provide individuals, lay healthcare providers, professional healthcare providers, and policymakers with appropriate health information. It concludes that health information is an essential component of many identified and established human rights. States party to treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have a legal obligation under International Human Rights Law to progressively meet the healthcare information needs of all citizens.
Healthcare providers can only function effectively if their own basic professional needs are met. These needs may be summarised as:
• Structural support
• Communication facilities.
This spells the acronym SEISMIC - a seismic shift is needed to address the needs of front-line healthcare providers in low-income countries. For too long their needs have been ignored.
The HIFA campaign focuses on the Information needs of healthcare providers, but clearly the full range of needs must be met to ensure high quality care. HIFA is continually seeking to promote and strengthen links with initiatives that address these needs, as well as those that address broader issues of health, human rights and international development.