Economy vs Human Rights: A Misleading Dichotomy
April 20, 2020​​​​​​​
The health crisis itself and a number of state measures to contain it—mainly isolation and quarantine—are leading the world into an economic recession.The consequences of the decisions taken by national and international stakeholders to address health and economic issues reciprocally affect each other, and so, their joint study is needed.

I have been concerned about some states’ failure to adequately respond to warnings to prepare for pandemics. The lack of effective response from a number of governments to protect people’s health through proven measures such as social distancing and quarantines to flatten the curve of the pandemic is also very concerning. Arguing that the cure would be worse than the disease, some governments have opposed these measures to avoid an economic slowdown.

When the life and health of populations are at stake, business as usual must not go on. Governments must ensure that public health systems do not collapse, and that health policies and protections are not eroded, but rather they remain robust and capable of controlling the spread of the disease. When faced with making a decision about protecting lives, or protecting the economy, human rights must inform the debate.

Some governments appear to be promoting an approach of “saving the economy” at any cost, including through risking the health and lives of the majority of their populations. This economy centric approach is often accompanied by a lack of enthusiasm to reduce inequalities, or to ensure the realization of economic and social rights, or acknowledge and address the impacts of pollution and climate change on health. Therefore, “saving the economy” means prioritizing the interests of a powerful elite. Such a reductionist view of the economy cannot operate as a trump, especially as the broad economy must allow for the majority of people to have their economic and social rights realized.

Illustration by Chun Wang​​​​​​​