Access to reliable healthcare information is (or should be) a human right: Do you agree or disagree? (5)

5 June, 2023

Of course, access to information that is essential to human development should be a human right, but the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and its Covenants avoids saying so (see my blog of a few years ago ( As Najeeb notes, the focus in these documents is on holding and expressing “opinions” – not on access to scientific information.

However (as Geoff Royston reminded me off-list last week), in May 2000, UN/ECOSOC issued its General Comment No. 14 (2000): The right to the highest attainable standard of health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) ( In this document the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that the right to health was “an inclusive right”, and that among the determinants to health included was “access to health-related education and information”. The Committee went further, defining “information accessibility” as “the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas concerning health issues”.

In October 2003, UNESCO provided a similar endorsement in respect of a broader concept of the right of access to “information essential to human development” in one of its annual conference declarations (The Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace “Universal access to cyberspace is equitable and affordable access by all citizens to information infrastructure (notably to the Internet) and to information and knowledge essential to collective and individual human development”.

Both of these statements endorse the idea that access to health information is a human right. However, they are both 20 years old and are little-noticed. What would be helpful now is a free-standing “Declaration on the Right of Access to Essential Information”.

We should push to have such a Declaration adopted by the World Health Assembly and by UNESCO. This would serve as a basis for goals and explicit targets in the next round of international development target-setting after the SDGs come to an end in 2030.

Does anyone have the appetitie for such a campaign?



HIFA profile: Chris Zielinski: As a Visiting Fellow and Lecturer at the Centre for Global Health, University of Winchester, Chris leads the Partnerships in Health Information (Phi) programme, which supports knowledge development and brokers healthcare information exchanges of all kinds. He is the elected Vice President (and President-in-Waiting) of the World Association of Medical Editors. Chris has held senior positions in publishing and knowledge management with WHO in Brazzaville, Geneva, Cairo and New Delhi, with FAO in Rome, ILO in Geneva, and UNIDO in Vienna. He served on WHO's Ethical Review Committee, and was an originator of the African Health Observatory. He also spent three years in London as Chief Executive of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. Chris has been a director of the UK Copyright Licensing Agency, Educational Recording Agency, and International Association of Audiovisual Writers and Directors. He has served on the boards of several NGOs and ethics groupings (information and computer ethics and bioethics). chris AT His publications are at and and his blogs are and