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The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the significance of the work of FSPH’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center in spotlighting which countries guarantee key human rights.


The pandemic sheds light on inequalities that we haven’t successfully addressed.”
— Dr. Jody Heymann

DR. JODY HEYMANN has devoted her career to advocating for vulnerable and marginalized populations around the world through her public health and policy expertise and scholarship. As founding director of the Fielding School’s World Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) and a distinguished professor of public health, public affairs, and medicine at UCLA, she has led an unprecedented effort to expand the evidence on what works to improve population health and economic outcomes across countries. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out around the world, the importance of her team’s work has become that much more apparent.

WORLD seeks to promote equal opportunities across the globe by identifying the most effective national policy approaches to advancing health, equity, and well-being. By improving the quantity and quality of globally comparative policy data available and working in partnership, WORLD provides policymakers, researchers, and the public with tools for taking action to strengthen policies and their implementation.

One such policy is paid sick leave, which proved especially critical as COVID-19 first spread through workplaces. As Heymann notes, some of the countries without strong, comprehensive policies faced among the highest early infection rates.

“The pandemic sheds light on inequalities that we haven’t successfully addressed, as well as on which countries have adopted key social protections for everyone in their society,” Heymann says. “The U.S., Italy, and Iran are among the countries that lacked paid sick leave from day one. It’s not the only reason you get infection spread, but it is a factor.”

Heymann’s expertise on sick leave policies globally led to appearances on Public Radio International’s “The World” program and KTLA television in Los Angeles. In addition, Heymann and WORLD senior legal analyst Aleta Sprague published a commentary in The Hill advocating for a national cohort of preventive health workers to roll out each element of the federal COVID-19 strategy.

“People have been warning about an outbreak like this for years, but now is not the time to look backward,” Heymann says. “It’s the time to look forward, and ask what we can do, right now, to improve our response for the rest of this pandemic, so that we’re never so unprepared again.”

The long view Heymann’s team brings to issues of human and constitutional rights, including those as basic as the right to health and health care, is clearly demonstrated in “Advancing Equality: How Constitutional Rights Can Make a Difference Worldwide,” co-authored by Heymann, Sprague, and WORLD principal research analyst Amy Raub. Released in January 2020, the book analyzes the scope and impact of core social and economic rights in 193 countries.

“The pandemic makes plain the importance of ensuring that both preventive health care and treatment are equally accessible to all,” Sprague says.

As the book recounts, around the world, constitutional health rights have provided a powerful tool for advancing public health. The U.S., however, lacks a right to health. Heymann notes that it’s also critical to have strong protections against discrimination.

“What the data show is that COVID is making existing health disparities worse,” Heymann says. “Beyond a right to public health, we need to ensure that constitutions clearly guarantee equal rights to all.”