Right to health: Does it exist for the poor?
I am jotting down an experience which I had during my internship with an NGO. It’s about a seven-year-old girl, Yasmeen, who cannot walk. She has club feet. Yasmeen’s father is unemployed and tells her mother to throw the girl out of the house. Her mother is a domestic servant and earns a meagre salary of Rs.800, to survive in a city like Delhi. Is not Yasmeen entitled to treatment which her fundamental right to health guarantees? Well, I thought she did. But soon I learned that it was far from being true.
In a time span of one month we went to three hospitals, stood in long queues, were refused medical treatment innumerable times, had to endure unacceptable behaviour and are still endeavouring to get Yasmeen treated.
Article 21 does not include right to health explicitly. Right to life and personal liberty has come about to include right to health through liberal interpretation and judicial activism. Article 47 of the Constitution i.e. maintenance and improvement of public health (Directive Principles) was ruled as a part of Article 21 by the Supreme Court. It is highly tragic that right to health is not explicitly mentioned as a part of Article 21. Instead, it remains a part of Directive Principles. Right to life is incomplete without right to health and the latter includes right to have access to proper healthcare facilities. There should also be a provision which makes it possible for the person concerned to know the circumstances under which he or she has been denied healthcare facilities.
In part IV of the Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policy, namely Articles 39 (e) and (f), 41 and 47 collectively impose a duty upon the State to secure and improve health of the people. However, in practice the contrary is observed. Poor people are denied medical advice on trivial, insignificant grounds. For instance, in Yasmeen’s case she was initially refused medical advice on the grounds that the handwriting in the prescription was not clear!
Articles 22 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantee right to health to the citizens of all the member states of the United Nations. Thus, when India became a member of the United Nations, citizens of India were automatically granted these rights. Moreover, Articles 1, 2 and 7 of the UDHR ensure equality before law to everyone. Hence, even before India gained independence, its citizens gained the aforementioned rights. Therefore, the Constitutional provisions are in consonance with UDHR. However, it is evident that while the rich have access to medical facilities, the poor are denied their right to the same. It is highly ironical that in one of the first member states of the UN (where the lex loci is also in line with the UDHR), basic human rights of poor people like Yasmeen are consistently violated.
The vast inequality between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ pertaining to such an important right to health is quite evident.
It is extremely tragic that Yasmeen cannot avail of the benefits of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 as getting a disability certificate involves many intricacies for someone whose parents do not own even a ration card. This has ironically happened in the country which sets out the principle of equality in the Preamble of its Constitution. While the statutes and the Constitution present a rosy picture, in reality the situation is quite petrifying. It does not require legal expertise to know that being denied right to health is violation of one’s basic human right. Hence, I conclude that in real sense, right to health does not exist for the poor.
IInd Year, B.A. L.L.B (Hons.),
NALSAR, University of Law,