Example 4: Human Rights in Patient Care Courses Initiative 

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization 

Open Society Foundations, Public Health Program, New York, USA

Web: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/about/programs/public-health-program 

The Law and Health Initiative (LAHI), a division of the Open Society Foundation’s Public Health Program, supports the use of legal strategies to advance the health and human rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups. It advances this mission by applying the health and human rights framework to new issues and priority regions; developing individual and organizational leadership in the field of health and human rights; piloting innovative access to justice tools as health-related human rights interventions; advocating for rights-based legal environments that support the health of marginalized groups; and leveraging sustainable funding for efforts that advance this mission.

LAHI supports collaborations between health and legal practitioners with a view to advancing mutually shared goals of human rights, human dignity and open society. LAHI both builds the capacity of health providers to use the law to advance their advocacy objectives and supports legal practitioners in expanding their remit to include public health. This initiative was undertaken by LAHI in collaboration with the Human Rights and Governance Grants Program, Roma Health Project, Russia Project, and National Foundations in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, and Ukraine of the Open Society Foundations.

The Problem

Human rights norms are an increasingly important component of the delivery of quality medical care. OSF’s work on behalf of society’s most marginalized persons—people with disabilities, people living with HIV, people who use drugs, sex workers, Roma and other ethnic minorities—has shown that health systems can too often be places of punishment, coercion, and violations of basic rights to privacy and confidentiality, rather than places of treatment and care. At the same time, doctors and health practitioners in many Eastern European and Central Asian (EECA) countries are constrained in their ability to provide quality care to their patients, or are unaware of how to incorporate ethical and human rights norms into their work. Similarly, legal professionals have limited experience in working in health and trying to address the abuses that occur. There is a need to address this gap so that that the next generation of doctors and health practitioners receive basic human rights training and legal professionals are equipped to work at the intersection of law and health.

Actions Taken 

LAHI, in collaboration with OSF partners, has sought to respond to this need by supporting the development of courses on human rights in patient care in nine EECA countries. In 2007, LAHI hosted a Salzburg seminar bringing together academics from EECA medical, public health, and law schools along with key partner NGOs and patient advocates for an intensive week to explore critical human rights in patient care topics and think creatively about how to structure a course addressing these issues. LAHI and OSF partners subsequently funded the development and piloting of over a dozen courses in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. Different courses target medical students, medical practitioners, health managers, public health students, and law students.

Results and Lessons Learned 

While the courses are self-sustaining and a regular part of the offerings at each university, faculty have requested the opportunity to share experiences and materials and continue to strengthen their teaching. To meet this need, LAHI and partners organized a series of workshops over the past few years. Workshops provided faculty with an opportunity to share lessons with each other, sharpen their interactive teaching methodology, and develop lesson plans and case studies. Faculty were also exposed to cutting edge health and human rights topics, such as access to sex reassignment surgery, access to maternal care for women who use drugs, coercive sterilization of women living with HIV, health care privatization and human rights, and dual loyalty conflicts faced by health practitioners. Additionally, LAHI and OSF’s Health Media Initiative supported the development of an online “Community of Practice”  for ongoing collaboration among faculty.  Please find the Community of Practice web page at: http://cop.health-rights.org/.