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Doctor as Advocate: The Human Rights-Based Approach to Health

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

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Course Description

Refugees from Syria. Torture in Guantanamo. "Black Lives Matter." Human Trafficking. Topics in "Human Rights" are all over the news. But what responsibility do doctors have to act? This course will explore the physician's role in protecting the "right to health." We'll tackle a number of issues to understand how individual and community health can be improved by protecting human rights.

Across the globe everyday, millions experience violations of their human rights that result in disease. But how do we define the "right to health?" How does a right to health play out in specific contexts: inside prisons in America, women's reproductive rights in Afghanistan, newborns in vulnerable settlements, or when hospitals that are bombed in Syria?

Throughout history, physicians and other health professionals have fought for the protection of human rights and the incorporation of the right to health into law. In this course, we will explore advocacy on a variety of issues through an interactive curriculum with presentations, vibrant class discussion, films and group projects. Students will read academic articles in a variety of disciplines and read excerpts from both literature and journalism on current events.

Students will learn to understand the cultural and historical context for human rights violations, and how human rights advocacy can be a powerful vehicle for change in policy and law and to protect the most vulnerable, poor, and powerless in our society.

As an instructor, I'll bring my own experience working in the field into the classroom to show how real these issues are. I've worked with rural communities in Nicaragua and inside the slums of Calcutta, India as well as an advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a Nobel-Prize winning organization here in the United States.

This course will be of interest to students who want to study to be a doctor, nurse, lawyer, or work in public policy or public health.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Critically assess or analyze human rights issues with a widened perspective and definition of health
  • Learn techniques for advocacy for health equity and improved health systems, locally and globally
  • Understand historical, social, political, economic and cultural processes that impact health and illness
  • Communicate via the written word and verbal presentations

There are no prerequisites for this course, but a strong interest or some background in the subject material is expected.

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