How human rights data can support public health efforts, advocacy

By Joe VanHoose

Hundreds of public health professionals from across Georgia convened Thursday in Athens at the 12th annual State of the Public’s Health Conference (SOPH), organized by the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.

The conference explores approaches to tackling the most pressing public health issues affecting Georgia communities today, including mental health care access, improving maternal and child health, and topics on health equity.

Presenters throughout the day emphasized the necessity of data to drive solutions. In the afternoon keynote session, K. Chad Clay, Ph.D., discussed the measurement of human rights practices and how the U.S. stacks up against other high-income democratic countries.

“Health is a human right,” is a common call within and outside the public health community. Yet, according to Clay, there is not much guarantee to that right in the U.S. In fact, the Right to Health category, the U.S. ranks last among its peers.

“(The U.S. is) the only large, high-income democracy that has not ratified the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights,” Clay said. “The right to health is not a legally binding human right in the U.S.”

Clay is the director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues (GLOBIS) and an associate professor in the Department of International Affairs within the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) at UGA. He is also the co-founder of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), a collaborative venture between human rights practitioners, researchers, academics and other human rights supporters that aims to produce the first comprehensive set of measurements for tracking the human rights performance of countries.

Many of the key metrics Clay uses to track human rights can be improved by public health interventions, including access to health care, maternal health care, and access to healthy good. HRMI data, says Clay, could be a useful tool to support public health research and shape decision-making.

“I think, I hope human rights-based approaches to advocacy and measurement can be helpful in improving human rights outcomes in the United States,” Clay said.

While the tracker currently reports only national-level metric, Clay said that a future goal is to have robust state-level data on these key human rights metrics. Explore the HRMI rights tracker: