Dissecting NCDs Policies: Why International Human Rights Are Relevant in the Current Regulatory State

Article excerpt

Contrary to the common belief that health is an individual concern and free from governmental interference, the United Nations recently adopted a Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) (which have become the leading cause of death worldwide) that calls for a "regulatory mix" of multi-sector, cost-effective, population-wide interventions to improve individual health. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted several instruments that aim to promote the welfare of individuals through government interventions. Although these instruments do not have a binding effect on member states, they nevertheless reveal a new regulatory trajectory in the context of mitigating lifestyle risks.

As identified by the United Nations, the four major NCDs are cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes. The reduction in economic productivity caused by NCDs and the healthcare burden on society that they create potentially transforms the role of government from that of a custodian, who refrains from interfering with individual lifestyle choices, to that of a manager, whet--through a myriad of regulations such as taxation, restrictions on the sales of harmful products, advertisement restrictions, and import bans--becomes the architect of an environment that responds to the ideals of the new public health paradigm.

Not only is the emergence of this new form of governance problematic because of its paternalistic undertones, the use of the regulatory mix to influence individual behavior often does not deal with the root causes of NCDs. Specifically, as acknowledged by the WHO, there are a cascade of influences composed of social, political, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to the increased incidence of NCDs. Thus, if NCDs are social problems that justify government intervention, then the remedies to them should also be socially constructed. …