The United Nation’s (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 established a goal to “ensure that no one is left behind and to reach the furthest behind first.” However, this goal’s progress hinges on the recognition of discrimination in healthcare systems, explains the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Widespread discrimination in healthcare has taken many forms, and violates the most fundamental of human rights. UN entities have set forth international treaties, laws, and precedents to protect and certify human rights to every person. Stigmas and marginalization exist on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, health status, sexual orientation, migration status, or criminal record. The United States has declared it will enforce the UN’s motion for this goal.

The healthcare system experiences detriments on both the medical and patient levels because of prejudice, causing people to be denied access to medical care services.

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“Examples include specific individuals or groups being subjected to physical and verbal abuse or violence; involuntary treatment; breaches of confidentiality and/or denial of autonomous decision-making, such as the requirement of consent to treatment by parents, spouses or guardians; and lack of free and informed consent,” according to a UN statement.

Women have faced discrimination in many aspects of life, especially the workforce; for example, the glass ceiling. Women are subjected to physical and sexual violence, wage gaps, lower salaries, and a lack of power in decision making.

Some national laws counter antidiscrimination with laws that negatively affect the health of patients and further perpetuate bigotry in the medical field. 

Effectively undertaking inequity in the health systems will provide the progression needed to help the success of many other Sustainable Development Goals. Discrimination is a strong adversary to the equality and rights of every person. International entities have an immediate legal responsibility to accost discrimination and set forth motions to terminate it. 

The UN has called on fellow polities to put policies in effect to fight discrimination by placing guarantees against discrimination in law, policies, and regulations; “[s]upporting measures to empower health workers and users of health services through attention to and realization of their rights, roles and responsibilities”; “[s]upporting accountability and compliance with the principle of non-discrimination in health care settings”; and lastly, to implement the UN-shared framework for action on combating inequalities and discrimination.


Joint United National Statement on ending discrimination in health care settings [press release]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017.