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Ethics briefing
  1. Martin Davies,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Veronica English,
  4. Caroline Ann Harrison,
  5. Carrie Reidinger,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Medical Ethics and Human Rights, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, London, UK; mdavies{at}

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British Medical Association launches new report on emerging threats to global health-related rights

On 7 April 2022 – coinciding with World Health Day – the British Medical Association (BMA) launched its new report, Health and human rights in the new world (dis)order.1 Written during the global upheaval triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and published just weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the report responds to a range of emerging and intensifying threats to health-related human rights globally.

As the report establishes, human rights in health and healthcare matter because human suffering, and its relief, are fundamental moral issues. As relief of human suffering is the primary purpose of medicine, it follows that doctors and other health professionals are often active in times of human challenge and extremity. During conflict, humanitarian crises, and, as we have so recently seen, global public health emergencies, health professionals are essential to the response. But these crises – and the response to them – can put fundamental human rights and interests under pressure. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen sustained indiscriminate shelling of civilian infrastructure. Whether health facilities were directly targeted is moot – the indiscriminate nature of the assault means they will inevitably be hit. Not only is this a violation of the Geneva Conventions, it undermines fundamental human rights, not least of which the right to health. Destroying health infrastructure drives further suffering and delays post-conflict recovery.

Public heath emergencies can rightly require draconian measures – social distancing, enforced isolation, location tracking, economic shutdown. Although we saw their necessity during the COVID-19 outbreak, concerns were raised about disproportionate restrictions on basic rights, including rights to privacy and liberty. Human Rights Watch drew attention to the way governments unlawfully exploited COVID-19 to crack down on fundamental rights.2

Although conflicts and public health emergencies are not new, the report also tracks a number of …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

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