Closing the Gap: a Human Rights Approach to the Social Determinants of Health

Brigit Toebes, Karien Stronks

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Social determinants of health are major contributors to population health as well as
health inequalities. The public perception that health inequalities that arise from
these social determinants are unjust seems to be widespread across societies.
Nevertheless, there is also scepticism about the progress in the implementation of actual policies to reduce health inequalities. Scholars, activists and policy makers from various disciplinary backgrounds increasingly stress the value of the human rights approach to support policies addressing health inequalities, and to hold actors in policies to address social determinants accountable for these inequalities. The ‘right to health’, in conjunction with the other health-related human rights, captures most elements of social determinants of health, and makes clear appeals to the governmental authorities at all levels to take action when social injustices occur. Existing judicial and non-judicial cases show us how human rights can be instrumental in addressing inequalities in health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-524
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Health Law
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • social determinants of health
  • human rights

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