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Did the right to health get across the line? Examining the United Nations resolution on the Sustainable Development Goals
  1. Claire E Brolan1,2,
  2. Vannarath Te3,
  3. Nadia Floden3,
  4. Peter S Hill3,
  5. Lisa Forman1
  1. 1 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Claire E Brolan, c/-School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Level 5, 207 Bouverie Street, Victoria, 3010, Australia; claire.brolan{at}


Since the new global health and development goal, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, and its nine targets and four means of implementation were introduced to the world through a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution in September 2015, right to health practitioners have queried whether this goal mirrors the content of the human right to health in international law. This study examines the text of the UN SDG resolution, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, from a right to health minimalist and right to health maximalist analytic perspective. When reviewing the UN SDG resolution’s text, a right to health minimalist questions whether the content of the right to health is at least implicitly included in this document, specifically focusing on SDG 3 and its metrics framework. A right to health maximalist, on the other hand, queries whether the content of the right to health is explicitly included. This study finds that whether the right to health is contained in the UN SDG resolution, and the SDG metrics therein, ultimately depends on the individual analyst’s subjective persuasion in relation to right to health minimalism or maximalism. We conclude that the UN General Assembly’s lack of cogency on the right to health’s position in the UN SDG resolution will continue to blur if not divest human rights’ (and specifically the right to health’s) integral relationship to high-level development planning, implementation and SDG monitoring and evaluation efforts.

  • right to health
  • human rights
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • health and development
  • global health policy
  • rights and development

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  • Contributors CEB developed the study and analytical framework. CEB and VT prepared the first draft of the manuscript. PSH, NF and LF provided valuable feedback on the drafts. All authors reviewed and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding VT's and NF’s work was funded by the UQ Summer Research Scholarship arranged by the UQ Advantage Office in collaboration with the UQ School of Public Health. This analysis was also undertaken as part of Go4Health, a research project funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program, grant HEALTH-F1-2012-305240, and by the Australian Government’s NH&MRC-European Union Collaborative Research Grants, grant 1055138.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.