Réseau universitaire international de Genève
Geneva International Academic Network

Français | English
Homepage > Research > Projects > Long Description

Health, Human Rights and Legislation: A Special Focus on Mental Health

Annual Call for Projects 2002


With the support of the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN), the Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence of the World Health Organization together with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine and the Institute of Legal Medicine of the University of Geneva have joined their efforts to develop materials and offer training in the area of human rights as it relates to issues of health and mental health.

The Constitution of the World Health Organization states that "The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being..." Furthermore, WHO has defined "health" as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

The right to health places upon governments and public health authorities positive obligations to put in place policies, programmes, legislation and other measures to ensure access to good quality health services for all. Furthermore, the health care provided must respect the human rights and dignity of patients. The quality and efficacy of care however, also depends to a large extent on the knowledge and training of public health professionals and their ability to understand the needs and rights of patients.

Within the framework of the project, the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in collaboration with a number of its partner institutions, will undertake research activities in order to examine the current level of knowledge and awareness among health students and professionals on the issue of the right to health and mental health and to determine future training needs in this area. The findings of this research, along with an existing WHO programme on health and human rights will form the basis for developing a module on health and human rights designed to train health students.

People with mental disorders are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. Within the health care context they may be exposed to inadequate, unethical, degrading and harmful care and treatment practices for example. In the wider community context, they may experience restrictions on their right to vote, to education, employment and housing, to name but a few. In order to address this problem, the WHO is in the process of developing a Manual on Mental Health Legislation which aims to provide countries with technical support and assistance in the formulation and implementation of laws to promote and protect the rights of people with mental disorder.

The WHO Manual on Mental Health Legislation and the module on health and human rights will both form the basis for the training activities of the project. Students from the pre-graduate and post-graduate programmes of the medical faculty of the University of Geneva, as well as those of the University's partner institutions in Yaounde and Marrakech, will all benefit from training on human rights and health issues.

Both documents will also be used as a framework to train a number of consultants and young professionals who will be supporting countries in undertaking mental health law reform. Prior to the initiation of activities at country level (described below), the faculty will convene to develop a common framework of action and to discuss and agree upon general techniques and strategies for working with countries.

Following the faculty meeting, WHO will host an International Training Forum on Mental Health and Human Rights to which will be invited representatives of approximately forty countries wishing to develop and implement laws on mental health. The Forum will convene legislators, ministry of health officials, mental health experts, non-governmental organizations, consumer groups and other key actors from countries who want to gain core technical information on mental health legislation. The Forum will also provide opportunities for countries to learn from one another's experiences, thus facilitating inter-country collaboration and capacity building. The project will sponsor the attendance to the Forum of six countries wishing to receive intensive technical support in developing and implementing their legislation. Once again, both the module and manual will serve as a guiding framework for the work with Forum participants.

The six selected countries will receive technical support from faculty consultants as an integral part of the post-training Forum support. Specifically, it is expected that the faculty consultants and young professionals will collaborate in the development of national mental health legislation and advise on measures for its adoption and subsequent implementation.

Additionally, within the framework of the project, the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine of the University of Geneva will host a website which will include a database on the issue of health and human rights for health students and professionals. Online self learning tools and materials will be developed to promote training in this area. The site will be linked to WHO's health and human rights website, which also comprises training materials, as well as key international human rights instruments relevant to the right to health. Finally, a CD Rom containing health and human rights materials, resources and self-learning tools will be developed.

The grant provided by the GIAN for this project totals SFr 378,000

> See shorter summary

Project Team

Ms Natalie Drew , Co-coordinator, Mental Health , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Dr. Michelle Funk , Co-coordinator, Mental Health , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Ms Helena Nygren-Krug , Principal Member, Health and Human Rights , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Ms Geneviève Pinet , Principal Member, Legislation, Health , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Dr. Benedetto Saraceno , Principal Member, Mental Health , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Dr. Jose Bertolote , Associated Member, Mental Health , World Health Organization (WHO) .

Related Links

> Santé mentale et droits de l'homme: un compendium pédagogique

> WHO Mental Health: Policy, Legislation and Human Rights

> Children's Health: Extreme Situations of Violation of Rights

> Convention on the Rights of the Child - Medicus Mundi

Related News

Related Conferences

Mental Health - Press Conference 7.12.2005
Le Club suisse de la Presse - Geneva Press Club, in collaboration with the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN)...
> more

Research Output

WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation
(available in Hindi, Arabic, German, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, French and English)
> more
Support Structures and Mental Health
(available in French only)
> more
Human Rights and Health: Exploratory Studies
(available in English and French)
> more