Health and Human Rights

Across the U.S. and around the world, profound inequities and structural barriers undermine or prevent the realization of the right to health for tens of millions of people. In addition, some health programs and policies are instituted in ways that tolerate or reinforce discrimination, facilitate stigma or undermine human dignity. Increasingly, the public health field is recognizing that integrating human rights approaches into public health practices and policies can provide a powerful force for social justice and improved health. 

This Certificate will prepare graduates with the conceptual frameworks and practical tools for designing, implementing and advocating for rights-based health programs, policies and systems. Areas to be covered include, for example, the social, commercial, and colonial determinants of health; HIV/AIDS; global vaccine justice; climate and environmental justice; reproductive rights and justice; and human rights in humanitarian action.  

Graduates of the program will be well equipped for positions in local, national, and international public health programs, and institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations and foundations that employ rights-centered analysis and action.

Admissions Eligibility

Health and Human Rights is open to Columbia MPH students in the following departments:

Note that given the required classes, the program may be most compatible for students enrolled in Epidemiology, Population & Family Health or Sociomedical Sciences.

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Assess human rights norms, instruments, and tools that are pertinent to advancing social justice in public health, and conceiving of public health as a tool of social justice (or injustice). 
  2. Apply provisions from a range of human rights instruments, including international human rights law, humanitarian law, and national and constitutional laws that embody rights.
  3. Make connections among key milestones in the history and current efforts of applying human rights ideas to public health, including the role of social movements.
  4. Report on health-related human rights violations and advocate for their elimination.
  5. Critically evaluate the extent to which health programs and policies are demonstrably based on human rights norms and approaches. 

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Health and Human Rights Advocacy

The right to health offers an emancipatory framework for advancing the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. At the same time, this right is situated in a global health and international human rights system that engages in a form of epistemic coloniality rooted in white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. For instance, access to Covid-19 vaccines during the height of the pandemic was largely shaped by Euro-American colonial powers as well as the profit-driven pharmaceutical industry, providing ongoing confirmation of the inequities baked into the global health architecture. This class explores the tension between the emancipatory nature of the right to health, and the coloniality embedded in human rights and global systems. We will do so by drawing on thinkers such as Frantz Fanon who argue that “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” Consequently, our aim is firstly, to reinterpret the legal and theoretical frameworks that underpin human rights – particular the right to health – and consider the nature and scope of rights in national and international contexts. Second, we will explore creative and strategic mechanisms for shifting power through advocating for the right to health. 

This course will pay particular attention to three emergent developments in global health: first, we will briefly explore elements of the contemporary movements for racial, reproductive, and vaccine justice. Second, we will examine the decolonizing global health movement and its implications for rethinking the international health order. And third, we will draw on Indigenous knowledge systems to explore the intersections between climate justice and the right to health. Ultimately, this class seeks to lay the foundations for reimagining and rebuilding the field of public health and its institutions and systems on explicitly decolonial terms that simultaneously advance anti-racism, intersectional feminism and economic and climate justice. 

At a pedagogical level, the class employs a range of material including international agreements, case law, literature, poetry, and philosophy. Recognizing that students have a wealth of experience gained inside and outside the classroom, this course offers students the opportunity to co-construct the syllabus and rethink the classroom space.  

Environmental Justice Advocacy

In this course, students will learn about the disproportionate burdens of environmental contamination and resultant health disparities affecting marginalized communities across the United States and globally. The curriculum will explore the way in which the environmental justice movement in the US has succeeded in implementing just forms of health research, progressive environmental health policies, and protections from racial/cultural injustice, as well as obstacles, policy impediments and potential paths forward. We will examine environmental health/justice theories and perspectives in the contexts of health impacts on various populations including American communities of color and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, Indigenous peoples, women, and children. We will study climate change, natural disasters, urban pollution and segregation, extractive industries, and environmental sustainability. Students will be asked to critically examine these topics and also explore unresolved, chronic problems relating to environmental injustices and their health impacts. 

Related Certificates

Related Links