By Elil Renganathan

As we celebrate World Health Day this 2024, under the theme “My Health, My Right,” it’s a good moment to reflect on the essential right to health that transcends borders, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses. Promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO), April 7th not only marks the celebration of WHO’s foundation but also serves as a day to highlight important global health issues.

This year’s theme, “My Health, My Right,” underscores the fundamental belief that everyone, everywhere, should have access to quality health services without facing financial hardship.

This is often referred to as universal health coverage. However, despite progress, the reality remains that more than half of the world’s population lacks full coverage of essential health services. Diseases, disasters, conflicts, and environmental crises further exacerbate this vulnerability, denying millions their basic right to health.

In Malaysia, the observance of World Health Day aligns with the nation’s commitment to strengthening healthcare. The Health White Paper, approved by Parliament in June 2023, lays down a visionary framework for a resilient, equitable, and person-centered healthcare system.

Addressing challenges like an ageing population, the rise of noncommunicable diseases, and the hidden mental health epidemic, the White Paper emphasises the shift towards prioritising primary health care, promoting health, and preventing disease.

The WHO’s call to action this year is a reminder of the collective responsibility to champion health rights. It encourages individuals to be informed and make decisions about their health, advocating for accessible, quality care for all.

Governments worldwide are urged to invest strategically in health, ensuring laws and policies realise the right to health across sectors. The importance of everyone’s participation in health decision-making cannot be overstated, as it ensures that health initiatives are inclusive and responsive to the needs of the population.

The healthcare transformation planned in Malaysia therefore responds to WHO’s call and underlines the aim to future-proofing our health system. By focusing on primary healthcare, the country aims to transition from a sickness-centered approach to one that values overall well-being. Strengthening public-private partnerships is also crucial in achieving better health outcomes for Malaysians.

The theme “My Health, My Right” is a powerful reminder that health is not a privilege but a fundamental human right. It requires us to look beyond our immediate surroundings and recognise the global disparities in health access and quality.

As we celebrate World Health Day, let us recommit to advocating for health rights, not just as a national priority but as a global imperative.

World Health Day 2024 invites us to envision a world where health rights are universal, where policies and practices ensure health equity, and where every individual can claim “My Health, My Right” as a lived reality. It is a call to action for everyone, from policymakers to citizens, to work towards a healthier, more equitable world.

As we move forward, let’s carry the spirit of this day throughout the year and beyond, championing health rights as the foundation for a thriving local and global community.

Wishing you all a happy World Health Day 2024 and may we all play our part in building a healthier future for generations to come.

Elil Renganathan is professor of Public Health and Policy, School of Medical and Life Sciences, Sunway University


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