Groningen Journal of International Law

International Law Under Construction

Contributions from the International Law Department of the University of Groningen to the 6th Conference of the European Association of Health Law

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By Yi Zhang, University of   

On 28 – 29 September 2017, Professor Brigit Toebes, Dr. Marie Elske Gispen and Yi Zhang participated in the sixth annual conference of the European Association of Health Law (EAHL). The conference was organized by the Faculty of Law, University of Bergen, Norway in cooperation with the EAHL, and its theme was health rights regulations and the distribution of health care in Europe.

During the EAHL conference, Professor Toebes gave a keynote lecture entitled ‘International Human Rights Protection and the Distribution of Healthcare’. In her lecture, Toebes discussed the scope of the right to health care at the international, regional and domestic levels. Among other matters, she discussed the authoritative case law of the European Court of Human Rights. As seen in cases such as Sentges v the Netherlands and Vasileva v Bulgaria, the Court is increasingly engaging with health matters, touching in particular on the duty of the State to oversee the quality of healthcare services as well as possibilities for redress. Toebes explained that the right to health care as defined internationally does not provide a comprehensive set of standards when it comes to the distribution of health care. However, the so-called ‘AAAQ’ (i.e. availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality), for example, provides an authoritative set of principles that is increasingly applied in the context of healthcare distribution at the domestic level, as was also evidenced by the presentations from various participants at the conference (e.g. the presentation by Professor Hartlev on personalised medicine). 

Dr. Marie Elske Gispen presented her work on access to pain control and palliative care in Europe, sharing findings of her previous qualitative study in Latvia. She demonstrated how the unavailability and inaccessibility of morphine and other opioid-containing painkillers lead to needless suffering in large parts of Eastern Europe. This persistent health inequity is particularly problematic in light of the increase of non-communicable diseases in Europe, which, if curative care comes too late or is unavailable, simultaneously increases the need for pain control and palliative care. Dr. Gispen highlighted the relevant international legal framework, comprised of international human rights and drug control norms, and subsequently shared the key findings and conclusions of how the Latvian government is able to comply with its international drug control obligations whilst respecting their human rights obligations. The empirical study demonstrated that administrative and procedural drug control requirements unnecessarily obstruct adequate availability and accessibility of pain control medicines including morphine.

Yi Zhang presented her research at the PhD seminar at the EAHL conference. In her presentation, Zhang introduced China’s new healthcare reform model – the ‘Sanming Model’– in improving access to health care from a human rights perspective. China has made remarkable progress towards universal health coverage over the past two decades, including expanding its basic health insurance coverage to over 95% of its entire population. However, challenges remain. Zhang compared China’s three basic medical insurance schemes and identified huge disparities across population and between rural and urban areas which would result in de facto discrimination in equal access to health care. Given the remaining challenges, she proposed a rights-based approach to scale up universal health coverage in China. Subsequently, Zhang assessed the Sanming Model and summarised its pros and cons in improving equal access to health care in China.

In addition to their presentations, Professor Toebes and Dr. Marie Elske Gispen jointly chaired a session in which they explored, together with other EAHL members, establishing an interest group on chronic non-communicable diseases and the role of law in prevention and access to adequate care.


This post was originally posted on the blog of the Global Health Law Groningen Research Centre. For more information, please click here.

EAHL photo

From left to right: Dr. Marie-Elske Gispen, Yi Zhang and Professor Brigit Toebes.

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