But what role can law students play in helping make this happen?
The introduction of the SDGs has seen a transformation in approaches to health law - approaches that emphasise the importance of enabling healthy lives and well-being, alongside those that support people when they are unwell. These approaches are yet to be fully reflected in the law courses on offer to students, but are pioneered in innovative programmes such as our LLM in Health, Law, and Society, which looks at impacts on health across society and sectors.
To achieve the SDG goals for universal health care, it is imperative that a new generation of students are armed with the knowledge and skills to make change happen. Health law courses therefore need to consider the greatest challenges and opportunities for law and governance as mechanisms to address health and wellbeing. They need to answer questions about reproductive justice, social and mental health and wellbeing, health inequalities, and the diverse roles of social and political institutions in shaping health, law and society.
Health justice, in particular, needs to be intrinsic to contemporary health law courses. The 2016 NHS report, "Strategic Direction for Health Services in the Justice System," outlined how children from underprivileged areas, children in contact with the criminal justice system, or in detained settings, are more likely to smoke, misuse drugs or alcohol and have mental and physical health problems. Their lives are often further complicated by complex social and personal issues such as unemployment, low educational attainment or even homelessness.
These children are marginalised by society and, as a consequence of all these influences, their lives are often cut short in a brutal manifestation of social and health inequality.
Globally, the vision of Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS for zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths has helped drive recent progress in the AIDS response. The goal of having 15 million people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy by the end of 2015 was achieved nine months ahead of schedule.
This is one of the most successful public health initiatives of the last 50 years – only possible through collaboration between science, communities and policymakers in a common cause.
More recently, an event organised jointly by Dhaka University law department and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), addressed the financial division in the society and prejudice towards women and other marginalised groups, such as transgender people, as a major impediment in ensuring access to healthcare in the region. At the event, Dr Kamal, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court said the law has immense power and it needs to be enforced properly, irrespective of gender and social class.
Time and time again evidence suggests that Universal Health Coverage is achieved when political and legal will is strong. Some countries have already made significant progress towards achieving it. Many others are carving out exciting plans by having conversations with partners from a variety of disciplines, which leads to greater understanding about what access to global health means for their country or region.
To ensure the long-term sustainability of such initiatives, and the development of new robust solutions, a new generation of law and policymakers need to be empowered to act.
With the right knowledge and skills, Health Law students could graduate to:
• Work in a government department to bring about policy change to improve health and spur economic growth and social development.
• Be part of parliamentary health committees and mediate between those that develop policy and those that execute it.
• Work with community groups and civil society organisations that work on the ground and represent the concerns of different population groups.
• Become a journalist and increase understanding of universal health care as well as transparency and accountability in policy-making.
So, how can you get involved?
The University of Bristol’s LLM in Health, Law, and Society, marks an evolution in health law. As a distinctive, master’s level degree it goes beyond traditional courses on healthcare law to look at the relationships between law, governance and health across society and governmental sectors. Find out more.
This month, the University’s Centre for Health, Law, and Society will also be welcoming Professor Lawrence Gostin, the world’s leading scholar of the emerging field of Global Health Law, as the keynote speaker at a half-day cross-disciplinary symposium centred around Professor Gostin’s vision of ‘global health with justice’. Find out more.
About Dr Judy Laing
Dr Judy Laing is Co-director of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Health, Law, and Society. Her main research and teaching interests are in mental health law and human rights. In her role as expert advisor to the Care Quality Commission’s Mental Health Act Advisory Group, she advises the CQC on Mental Health Act monitoring and patient rights, in recognition of the importance of promoting patient empowerment and achieving parity of esteem for mental and physical health.
About Professor John Coggon
Professor John Coggon‘s research focuses on the relationships between politics, morality, and health law and policy. His primary areas of interest are in public health ethics and law, and mental capacity law and he is an Honorary Member of the UK's Faculty of Public Health. The Faculty aims to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of everyone in society by playing a leading role in assuring an effective public health workforce, promoting public health knowledge and advocating for the very best conditions for good health for all.