The 75th anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the establishment of the World Health Organization are observed this year.

WHO was founded on April 7, 1948, preceding by seven months the adoption of the Universal Declaration on December 10. The constitution of the WHO declares health as a fundamental right of every human being.

Within Article 25 of the Universal Declaration, health is included as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. Further, health was included as a human right in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Every human has the right to health.

Since the establishment of health as a fundamental human right, international agreements have set out to clarify the inclusiveness of the right to health and to define the relationship of “underlying determinates of health.”

These determinates of health include sanitation, safe drinking water, safe working environment, adequate housing, safe food, health-related education and gender equality.

The theme for this year’s World Health Day is “Health for All,” and it is a time of celebrating what has been done to ensure the right to health and addressing the ongoing challenges to public health.

One of the largest global challenges is that by the end of this decade, WHO estimates a shortfall of 10 million health care workers.

A wonderful success story in public health has been the growing emphasis on community-based, holistic primary health care. Accessibility to health services within a functional public health system remains a challenge to health globally.

“Accessibility is really one of the biggest issues we see in the Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas delta region,” asserts Brittany Caldwell, an ordained minister and registered nurse. A number of Mississippi hospitals have already shut down and over half of the remaining rural hospitals are in danger of closure.

Explaining that accessibility is often the biggest barrier to accessing health care, Caldwell describes the hardship facing people.

“When an expectant mother has to travel two or three hours to get to a major city it means that they must have dependable transportation and be allowed time away from work,” she says. “Most do not have the resources to be away from work for several days.”

Lack of access to prenatal care can cause low birthweight. Low birthweight – Mississippi leads the nation, Louisiana is second, Arkansas is seventh, according to CDC data – results in higher infant mortality, higher health care costs related to neonatal care, and also higher longer-range costs, including increased rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and developmental problems.

“These new moms have to leave their newborn in the hospital because they do not have leave time from work,” Caldwell says. “They must work to have any income. It looks like they do not care for their baby, but this is not the case at all.”

Caldwell, who serves as coordinator of community engagement for Great Rivers Fellowship, offered a variety of ways that local congregations can impact public health in their community. To address the issue of accessibility, Caldwell describes how churches can become health care advocates for one another.

When a member “gets really sick and no longer can come to Sunday school, her Sunday school members can go to them,” she explains. “They can take them to their doctor’s appointments. They can help her make sure she gets her meds picked up, and then they can go home and they can put all her meds into her little med box so she knows when to take and what to take and how to take it.”

In addressing public health care issues more holistically, Caldwell insists: “Churches can provide nutritious food in the form of food pantries or meals to the elderly. Churches can offer education in the form diabetes classes or weight loss classes. Churches can offer exercise classes.”

“There’s just so many things like that churches can directly provide for their community. For example, vaccination clinics,” she says.

Sharing about her experience of coordinating a church-based COVID-19 vaccination clinic, Caldwell said the church was able to resume activities again in person sooner because “we had 100% vaccination rate at my small country church in rural eastern North Carolina.”

“Health for All” is an international goal which requires engagement at local, state and national levels.

This year’s World Health Day and 75th Anniversary of the WHO and establishment of health as a fundamental human right is an opportunity for us to consider the health of our own communities.

Advocating for and engaging to ensure accessible health care is one way to make #HealthforAll a reality.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for World Health Day (April 7). The previous article in the series is:

World Health Day: A Brief History | Monty Self

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