Global Health and Human Rights

Subject POPH90244 (2014)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2014.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 9 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2014:

July, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable

Subject Dates: 21st - 25th July, 2014

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 30 contact hours over five days in intensive format.
Total Time Commitment:

For each contact hour, an additional three to four hours is expected in reading and self-directed learning. Total time commitment: 120 hours.

Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Student Support and Engagement Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Overview, Learning Outcomes, Assessment and Generic Skills sections of this entry.

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. Students who feel their disability may impact on meeting the requirements of this subject are encouraged to discuss this matter with a Faculty Student Adviser and Student Equity and Disability Support:



Academic Programs Office
Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
Tel: +61 3 8344 9339
Fax: +61 3 8344 0824

Subject Overview:

This interdisciplinary subject is designed to provide grounding for students of public health on the normative content and interpretations of the right to health (and supporting rights), and on the meaning of a rights-based framework for health in practice.

The conceptualisation of health as a human right can be traced through the formation of the United Nations, the World Health Organization Charter, and the Alma Ata Declaration on primary health care. More recently, it underpinned the social mobilisation for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. The thread is also observable in current discourse on the social determinants of health, health equity and the ethics of human subjects.

This subject explores the principles and practical applications of a rights-based framework for the health needs of populations. It engages with contemporary debates and critiques on the credibility, relevance and utility of human rights for health policy and program decisions. It also explores the confronting linkages between rights violations and health harms, as well as rights infringements that improve public health.

The subject includes case studies drawn from case law, empirical studies and civil society reports on issues including sexual and reproductive health, tobacco control, obesity, violence (especially against women and children), access to medicines, nuclear disarmament, and harmful practices. The subject concludes with an examination of the frontiers of the research and programming agenda, to inspire students on the possibilities for further investigation, action and advocacy to advance health rights.

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of the subject, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the content, obligations and interpretations of the right to health.
  • Identify the structural causes of ill-health and health inequities relating to discrimination.
  • Critique applications of a rights-based approach to health by public health, development and legal actors.
  • Evaluate the contribution and limitations of a rights-based approach for addressing health inequities.
  • Frame an argument for or against a public health initiative on human rights grounds.
  • Utilise human rights law to protect public health and justify interventions.
  • Respond to priorities for further theoretical and empirical research.
  1. Group presentation task (approx. 5 students per group): The task is to evaluate a public health initiative, through document review and interview, to assess its compatibility with a rights-based approach to health. Initiatives will be drawn from local public health or development agencies. Due on the final day of the course and will consist of:
    - Oral presentation – 15 minutes (15%)
    - Brief report – 1000 words (10%)
  2. 2 x 750 word critical response papers to readings, due 10 days after the course (25%)
  3. One 3000-word essay due 6 weeks after the Intensive teaching period (50%)

Prescribed Texts:

A full set of prescribed readings and resource materials will be provided prior to the commencement of the subject. A subject guide listing core and further readings will be produced and links to these will be uploaded to LMS. Readings and resource materials for the subject will include edited books, monographs, peer reviewed journal articles, grey literature (UN and NGO reports and studies), documentary films, podcasts and websites.
The core texts for the subject are:

  1. Farmer, P. (2005). Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor (New Ed.). Berkley: University of California.
  2. Tobin, J. (2012). The Right to Health in International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Clapham, A. & Robinson, M. et al. (Eds.) (2012). Realizing the Right to Health. Swiss Human Rights Book. Vol 3. Zurich: Ruffer & Rub.
  4. Gruskin, S et al. (Eds.) (2005). Perspectives on Health and Human Rights. New York: Routledge.
  5. Yamin, A. (2008). Will We Take Suffering Seriously? Reflections on What Applying a Human Rights Framework to Health Means and Why We Should Care. Health and Human Rights, 10(1):45-63.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:


On completion of the subject, students will be able to:

  • Articulate the ways in which human rights relating to age, gender, ethnicity and Indigenous status, society and culture influence health and public health practice;
  • Identify and discuss current public health challenges in global, Indigenous Australian and non-Indigenous Australian communities with reference to human rights.
  • Discuss and reflect on how a human rights approach can facilitate effective communication and decision making occur across public health organisations.


On completion of the subject, students will be able to:

  • Reflect on personal attitudes and beliefs and consider how these impact on decision-making in research and public health practice;
  • Describe how the concepts of human rights, equity and ethics apply to public health practice;
  • Communicate findings from an analysis of public health and human rights evidence, and use these findings for advocacy;
  • Explain and/or plan strategies, informed by a human rights approach, to prevent disease and injury and to protect and improve health (i.e. legislation, policy, and community development).

Application of knowledge and skills

On completion of the subject, students will be able to apply a comprehensive knowledge of human rights to develop solutions to complex public health problems.

Related Course(s): Master of Public Health

Download PDF version.