Health care access is a human right, not just a matter of philanthropy, the Holy See told the United Nations last Friday.
“All our efforts must be directed to ensure human dignity, quality of
health and life and to the building of a better world for the
generations to come,” said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See’s
permanent representative to the United Nations and other international
organizations in Geneva.
The archbishop spoke to the 34th session of the United Nations Human
Rights Council on March 10, under general debate on access to medicines.
Archbishop Jurkovic said health is a fundamental human right that is
“essential for the exercise of many other rights” and “necessary for
living a life in dignity.”
“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and of
human labor is not mere philanthropy,” he added. “This is a moral
He praised efforts to implement sustainable development goals related
to medicine. These include support for research and development of
vaccines and medicine for diseases that primarily affect developing
countries, and support for affordable essential medicines and vaccines.
The archbishop voiced the Holy See’s appreciation for international
agreements that provide legal pathways for affordable medicine and that
help the most vulnerable meet their needs.
He noted the need for
treatments for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and other epidemics.
“Access to affordable medicines no longer represents a challenge only
for the least developed and other developing countries; it has also
become an increasingly urgent issue for higher-income countries as
well,” he said.
There are problems like antibiotic resistance worldwide and a lack of
new medicines in developing countries in the face of budget constraints
on health programs, the archbishop noted.
Archbishop Jurkovic said the Catholic Church makes a “major
contribution” to health care around the world through local Churches,
religious institutions, and private initiatives.
institutions run over 5,100 hospitals, 16,500 dispensaries, 600 leprosy
homes, and 15,600 homes for the elderly, the chronically ill or
Citing firsthand information from these institutions in the most
isolated and poorest parts of the world, the archbishop said that rights
to health care are “far from being realized.”
“In order to promote human dignity and to adopt policies rooted in a
human rights approach, we need to confront and remove barriers, such as
monopolies and oligopolies, lack of access and affordability and, in
particular, both overwhelming and unacceptable human greed,” he
“If we fully intend to build a better world and future for the
generations that will come after us, we must remedy and correct the
misalignments and policy incoherence between the intellectual property
rights of inventors, innovators or manufacturers and the human rights of
“Pope Francis decries the selfishness and short-term thinking that
sabotage progress on saving the environment, on peace building, and on
public health crises as well,” Archbishop Jurkovic said. “He insists on
dialogue ‘as the only way to confront the problems of our world and to
seek solutions that are truly effective’.”
Authentic dialogue cannot allow the individual interests of countries
or specific interest groups to dominate discussions, he told the United