New Zealand’s failure to live up to its human rights promises on health care and protection

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivers an update on Covid-19 to Parliament, in Wellington, New Zealand, in August 2021. EFE/EPA/MARK MITCHELL


The New Zealand government’s elimination response strategy for Covid-19 meant implementing aggressive measures to tackle the virus ‘hard and early’. Although this strategy was initially successful, a survey by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) showed that with New Zealand’s health system prioritizing the response to Covid-19, other health needs were not sufficiently taken into account and that access to health care was considerably delayed. New Zealand’s healthcare system was not prepared for a pandemic and it’s easy to see why looking at a recently released report showing that the right to healthcare and protection has not improved in the country much. before the pandemic.

In 2021, HRMI, hosted by the New Zealand Economic Research Institute Motu, delved into the right to health care and protection in Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand – to gauge whether the New Zealand government takes the necessary steps to fulfill its international human rights promises. A complementary article on OpenGlobalRights shows this assessment of the right to adequate housing in Aotearoa. Both of these articles are based on research commissioned by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

By signing international human rights treaties, the New Zealand government has pledged to ensure that all available resources are used to improve everyone’s access to the right to health care and protection over time. time. The government has also pledged to meet minimum core obligations for the right to health care and protection, which range from ensuring access to health facilities, basic housing and safe drinking water. , to the supply of a minimum of essential food to guarantee the absence of hunger. These obligations underline the fact that all economic and social rights are interconnected.

The report offers new methodologies to measure whether the government is meeting five of its international human rights promises regarding the right to health care and protection. These methodologies are the same as those described in the OGR article on housing.

The New Zealand government is not keeping all its promises for the right to health care and protection

Table 1 shows that while most health outcomes did not deteriorate in Aotearoa, many health outcomes did not improve over time for all people.

Of the 23 right to health outcomes that we can track over time, 14 have not improved and seven have deteriorated. In the area of ​​physical health, the under-five mortality rate and unmet dental care needs have not improved, and the rate of hospitalizations for rheumatic fever has worsened. Under the underlying health conditions, Aotearoa’s relative poverty rate has not improved and inflation-adjusted funding for Maori healthcare providers per capita has declined.

The two best-performing indicators are in the key dimension of mental health. Aotearoa’s suicide rate and the percentage of people who have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime have both declined over time, meaning rights outcomes have improved.

Notes: For the promise of improving health outcomes over time, compliance is achieved if the majority of indicators have improved over time, failure is concluded if the majority of indicators have deteriorated or remained constant over time, and mixed evidence is concluded if indicators show different results. For the promise of ensuring that health outcomes do not deteriorate over time, compliance is achieved if the majority of indicators remain at least constant over time, failure is concluded if the majority of indicators deteriorate over time , and mixed evidence is concluded if the indicators show different results.

Moreover, of the 20 health outcomes that we can compare across population subgroups, 17 show breaches of the promise of non-discrimination. New Zealand’s current health care system makes it harder to achieve good health outcomes for Maori and Pacific peoples, people with disabilities, women, people with low health studies and those who do not have a job.

Urgent action is needed to improve health outcomes

Having assessed the New Zealand government’s performance against each of its human rights promises, we now have a clear understanding of the many ways the government has allowed its health system to stagnate. We can show the government where change is most urgent. A good place to start is to address Aotearoa’s unmet needs for primary and dental health care, high relative poverty rates, and high levels of food insecurity to prevent further health problems.

Overall, the report shows that human rights are not just aspirations, they are international commitments whose performance can be measured. This type of research must be conducted to hold governments to account and ensure that human rights are taken seriously.

Moreover, of the 20 health outcomes that we can compare across population subgroups, 17 show breaches of the promise of non-discrimination.

This is especially important during the pandemic. HRMI research shows that government measures against Covid-19 often have a negative impact on human rights, especially among those who are already vulnerable. Of the 39 countries surveyed, 65.4% of respondents said that Covid-19 had affected the enjoyment of the right to health. If a country prioritizes improving physical and mental health care and protecting against underlying health conditions for all, ensuring that disparities in access to health care are eliminated, it will be in a better position to respond to Covid-19 and prevent further harm and human harm. rights violations.

Want to know how your country is doing?

Other countries can use the methodologies presented in the report to empirically measure whether the government is delivering on its human rights promises. By doing so, more governments can recognize their failures and reorient their policy strategies and resources to most effectively improve human rights outcomes for all. Check HRMI’s Rights Tracker to see how your country is delivering on its human rights promises, including the right to health care and protection. Also see HRMI’s report on human rights during the pandemic to find out how your government’s response to Covid-19 has impacted human rights in your country.