Sometimes, answering a question with another question is not really enlightening; however, on this occasion it is convenient to do so and no special skills are required to answer the following ones: can children or young people see their right to education recognized if they are not healthy? Is good health influenced by education? The answer is that it is difficult to access a minimum level of health without a minimum knowledge about what we understand by health and how we should practice it. In addition, a sick person has little access to education.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly and forcefully stated the close relationship between education and health. His claims are accompanied by multiple indicators and have served to reinforce the arguments of other agencies of the United Nations:
- Education is a basic tool to break the fateful cycle of disease, poverty, inequality and exclusion.
- Health problems can undermine investment in education as some diseases keep boys and girls away from school. In other cases, they have to stop their education prematurely to take care of sick relatives.
- Some tropical parasitic diseases reduce nutrient absorption, affecting the development of mental functions, and compromising educational outcomes.
- Education and health are mutually reinforced so that people can fully develop their human potential.
- The education of mothers is key to child survival.
Furthermore, education is one of the main health determinants, i.e., socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions in which people are born, grow up and live. Those conditions include education, both formal and informal, since it is a necessary condition for reaching a certain level of physical, individual and collective well-being and, therefore, sustainable human development, in this case, specified in the Sustainable Development Objective (SDO) No. 3 (ensure a healthy lifestyle…) and No. 4 (ensure an inclusive education…).
Indeed, SDO 4 aims to ensure an inclusive, equitable, and quality education and to promote learning opportunities for all persons throughout life. It is therefore necessary to consider the SDO 3, whose aim is to ensure a healthy lifestyle and promote wellness for all people throughout their lives. I would definitely link this SDO with Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which proclaims that people should reach “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health”.
Education and health are inseparable companions, as well as the implementation of the right to education and the right to health, without misleading priorities among human rights. Nowadays, there are no longer first generation or second generation human rights and they, (whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural) must be respected, protected and guaranteed by the States.
Reality, however, presents cases in which we insist on establishing certain “competition” in the recognition of human rights. That’s a big mistake that leads to very negative consequences, especially for the most vulnerable people since usually they do not know they also have rights they don’t know about either. Thus an evil circle is established, and education can and must break it in order to educate and inform about human rights, which are the cornerstone of human society, because not only education and health are inseparable, but also the access to food, water and sanitation or the access to decent housing, for example, are.
Opinion article by Mª Teresa de Febrer, member of the Spanish NGO Prosalus, working since 1985 to promote health care in several countries of Africa and Latin America.