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Legal Experts Discuss Health Care Inequity in Latin America at Harvard Law School Panel

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The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School hosted a virtual panel Tuesday discussing the impact of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in addressing health challenges in Latin America.

The talk featured University of Buenos Aires professor Laura Clerico, UN Senior Human Rights officer Christian Courtis, Argentine National Research Council fellow Liliana Ronconi, and Diana Guarnizo, a director at the Center for Study of Law, Justice and Society. Partners In Health Senior Advisor on Human Rights and Health Policy Alicia E. Yamin moderated the panel.

Yamin began the forum by drawing attention to what she called a Latin American paradox, noting the region possesses the “steepest socioeconomic inequalities in the world” despite its “broad constitutionalization of health rights.”

Founded in 1979, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established case law in Latin America on the right to health. It has also regulated access to emergency care, HIV treatment, and health services for prison inmates.

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Courtis highlighted a number of landmark cases from the court that center around the regulation of the private health sector, including Ximenes Lopes v. Brazil.

The Lopes case, brought before the court in 2006, established the recognition of health care as a “public good” after a patient died in a Brazilian psychiatric facility due to improper care.

Courtis said the case was the first to acknowledge the state has a responsibility to regulate and supervise private health providers and insurance companies.

Guarnizo said the duty of the state extends beyond setting regulations and called on governments to take an active role in monitoring the private health sector.

“In order to protect rights, states have the obligation not just to suppress any rules or practices that are against the rights, but also to provide norms, to create norms, to develop practices that make those rights effective and to make sure that those rights are effective in practice,” she said.

Following questions from the audience, Clerico concluded the panel by encouraging political activists and parties to join the court’s efforts for healthcare equity.

“We need some influential groups also to take part of the political agenda — the things related to the revolution of the health sector — because otherwise it is very difficult to transform this structure,” she said.

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