Global Health and Human Rights Law Database

Posted By Anthony Maher – Feb. 13, 2014

In October 2013, the Lawyers Collective and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University officially launched the Global Health and Human Rights Database. This is the first-ever free database dedicated to health and human rights law. It features case law and other documents from more than 80 countries, including both common and civil law jurisdictions. It also provides 500 summaries and 200 translations of case law previously unavailable in English.

Rationale for the Database

In recent decades the right to health and other health-related rights have featured in a number of cases decided by national courts and international human rights bodies. This has produced a significant body of jurisprudence on the scope and content of the state’s obligations towards ensuring the health of its citizens.

Despite the growing use of litigation to enforce rights in health-related matters, no comprehensive collection of health and human rights judgments existed until the Global Health and Human Rights Law Database went live last October. Available for free online, the Database serves as an important source of information for students, scholars, and members of the community at large who have an interest in health and human rights.


Sample Search

The Database is divided into three sections: Judgments; International and regional instruments; and National constitutions.

Let’s try it out using the Advanced Search function. Selecting “Americas” under the Region/Country tab and “Chronic and noncommunicable diseases” under the Health Topics tab yields 24 judgments delivered in the period 1995-2012. These judgments are from such bodies as the Supreme Court of Canada, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Constitutional Tribunal of Bolivia, and the South Africa Supreme Court of Appeal, to name just a few. Each judgment is also accompanied by a hyper-linked list of the rights at issue, including the right to health, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to a clean environment, among others. These links lead to lists of other cases in which similar rights were at issue.


Avenues for Further Research

Beyond the value of the Database for individual researchers, it also has the potential to facilitate dialogue and debate on broader trends in global health law. In the words of one group of authors, there is an “imperative for interdisciplinary analysis” in the field of health and human rights. Scholars and practitioners alike could use the Database to identify trends across countries, compare divergent legal strategies for realising human rights and/or conduct empirical research on the effects of legal developments on health outcomes. This research could then be used to enrich policy-making related to health.


Additional Information

Click here to view a United Nations webcast discussing the development of the Global Health and Human Rights Law Database.

Need a Doctor? There’s An App for That

Posted By Laura Crestohl – Feb. 6, 2014

For many, access to easy and affordable health care is difficult. As a result, patients have been turning towards mobile applications to address their medical needs. With over 40,000 health apps available, if you need a health-related question answered, or your blood sugar level checked, there’s an app for that!

Health apps can help individuals manage their own health and wellness, and could allow doctors to quickly diagnose patients outside of the traditional health care settings. Allied Health Worldfound that health apps allowed twice as many rural patients to be reached by a doctor, reduced data collection costs by 24% and reduced health care costs for seniors by 25%. The market for health apps is increasing exponentially, and is estimated to reach $11.8 billion by 2018. The Government of Canada has even released its own apps, to help disseminate information about product recalls and safety alerts, as well as an app to help Canadians stop smoking.

However, policymakers are starting to worry about the effects these apps might have on public health, and what harms might come from unregulated health apps. In September 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that it would begin regulating health apps that performed functions akin to medical devices. These could include apps that monitor heart rates, or that attach into a phone like arm cuffs that measure blood pressure. The FDA claims that it will “apply the same risk-based approach the agency uses to assure safety and effectiveness for other medical devices” when approving health apps. Yet, apps that simply provide information or help users self-manage their conditions will only be handled with “enforcement discretion”. The director of the FDA’s medical device division told journalists that how the agency regulates these types of apps will depend on the app’s function and its risk.

Canadians are also increasingly using mobile apps to help them manage their health issues. Almost half of Canadians believe that mobile health apps will make health care more convenient, according to a new study by PwC that polled over 2,000 individuals. As well, 2/3 of Canadians would consider using virtual health care options, in the hopes of getting easy access to a physician, obtaining more information and gaining greater control over one’s health. Will Falk, Manager Partner of Healthcare at PwC says: “There needs to be a balance between securing access and modernization with quality and privacy”. As health care goes online, how do we find the balance between the demand for these products with the need for regulation? There’s no app for that.