Libraries of different types, through providing inclusive access to information can make a major contribution to making the right to health a reality. Governments, in turn, can and should help realise this potential through law, regulation and funding, as a new statement from IFLA underlines.

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the importance of healthcare information. From that used by individuals in deciding how to act, to that applied by professionals in caring for patients, and that helping governments to take key policy decisions, the need for effective access and use was clear.

Where there was information, people, professionals and those in power could take better decisions. Where there wasn’t, there were higher risks, missed opportunities, and unnecessary tragedies. Crucially, this access to health information is not equitable, both between individuals and between countries.

IFLA’s new Statement on Universal Access to Healthcare Information as a Human Right calls for a stronger recognition of the need to address this situation as a rights issue. This is based on provisions that already exist in international human rights law.

The statement stresses that delivering on this right requires a combination of investment in creation of information, work to make it accessible for all, supportive laws and regulations, and close engagement with society.

Libraries play a key role in this, as pre-existing and recognised centres in their communities, with a strong understanding of their needs and how best to deliver access to information to them. Nonetheless, their role in providing health information is not always recognised.

The statement therefore calls on libraries to work – in their advocacy and practice – to ensure that everyone has access to health information. To allow them to do this, it stresses that governments should clearly recognise the right to health information and pass supportive laws. It also calls for work to support the development of an offer of healthcare information, supporting libraries and other institutions as dissemination and application, and to promote partnerships.

The statement was prepared by IFLA’s Special Interest Group on Evidence for Global and Disaster Health, working with the Health and Bioscience Libraries Section, and approved by the IFLA Governing Board on 17 April 2024.

We encourage library associations, libraries and the library and information workforce – in particular in heath libraries – to draw on this statement in engaging with health ministries and agencies, representatives of the World Health Organization in your countries, and other stakeholders.

Read and download the Statement from IFLA’s Repository in:

* Automatically translated – others are original/translated by IFLA language centres