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IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C.- On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (OSRESCER) call on States in the Americas to adopt and implement intercultural policies to enable people of African descent to access public health systems, using an intersectional approach that contemplates gender and women's rights. It also reminds States of their duty to respect the traditional medical practices and therapeutic systems for preventing and treating disease of people of African descent and tribal communities.
The IACHR and the OSRESCER have observed that people of African descent and tribal communities face ongoing obstacles to the effective enjoyment of their economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as a result of the structural discrimination to which they have historically been exposed. Specifically, the IACHR has highlighted that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial disparities have deepened and become more visible, which has had a differential impact on people of African descent, who are at greater risk of infection and death from COVID-19. Furthermore, the intersection of ethnic/racial origin with other factors including gender; disability; being a child, adolescent, or elderly person; deprivation of liberty; sexual orientation and/or gender expression and identity; socioeconomic origin; and being a migrant or a victim of forced displacement can aggravate situations of racial discrimination, exclusion, and intolerance.
In response, in Resolution 1/20, the IACHR urged States to guarantee people of African descent and tribal communities timely, comprehensive access to public health services, using an intercultural approach. The IACHR welcomed various initiatives implemented by some States in the region to address COVID-19 with a focus on people of African descent, especially the "Guide for the Care of Indigenous Peoples and Communities and Mexicans of African Descent"; the "Recommendations for the Prevention of COVID-19 among People of African Descent"; and "Guidelines for the Prevention, Detection, and Management of Cases of COVID-19 for the Indigenous Population in Colombia." Likewise, in Resolution 4/2020, the IACHR established that states must ensure they implement an appropriate intercultural approach when treating and providing care for people of African descent with COVID-19.
The IACHR and the OSRESCER have noted the publicly available information that reveals racial inequalities in the region's health systems and the disproportionate impact this has on people of African descent. This is particularly evident in the lack of epidemiological data that is disaggregated by ethnic/racial origin; the presence of chronic, pre-existing illness among people of African descent; inequities in access to healthcare and medical supplies; the lack of social security and insurance programs among this group; the lack of access to mental health care or addiction treatment services; precarious access to basic services, infrastructure, and housing; and barriers in access to water and sanitation.
In line with the World Health Organization, the IACHR and the OSRESCER understand that the enjoyment of the right to health also depends on social factors, namely the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, work, live, and age, including the broader set of forces and systems that influence the conditions of their daily lives. With regard to people of African descent and tribal communities, this implies a need to establish intercultural guidelines that allow medical systems to coexist with diverse cultural systems and that develop communication strategies that are aligned with the validation of ancestral traditions and therapeutic systems that are specific to the population of African descent. The IACHR acknowledged the progress that some States have made in this regard, including laws that regulate access to health services while respecting knowledge and practices relating to the traditional natural medicine of people of African descent.
Finally, the IACHR and OSRESCER called on States to adopt specific measures that guarantee access to health care for people of African descent with an ethnic, intercultural, and social approach, guaranteeing medical treatment and palliative care to prevent diseases and further their physical and mental well-being. At the same time, the IACHR urges States to protect and promote the traditional medical practices of people of African descent and individual and collective processes of knowledge generation in this area, and to ensure that intercultural dialogues take place between State institutions and the health systems of people of African descent and tribal communities to ensure that traditional medicine is valued and integrated appropriately.
With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IACHR and the OSRESCER urged States to implement a vaccine distribution plan that guarantees equal access for people of African descent and tribal communities, taking into account priority conditions such as socioeconomic origin and geographic location, gender, disability, age, being the head of household, migratory status/forced displacement, sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.