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Cover of When Misfortune Becomes Injustice by Alicia Ely Yamin, Foreword by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr
When Misfortune Becomes Injustice
Evolving Human Rights Struggles for Health and Social Equality, Second Edition
Alicia Ely Yamin, Foreword by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr


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July 2023
326 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503633056
Paperback ISBN: 9781503635944
Ebook ISBN: 9781503635951

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When Misfortune Becomes Injustice surveys the progress and challenges in deploying human rights to advance health and social equality over recent decades. Alicia Ely Yamin weaves together theory and firsthand experience in a compelling narrative of how evolving legal norms, empirical knowledge, and development paradigms have interacted in the realization of health rights, and challenges us to consider why these advances have failed to produce greater equality within and between nations. In this revised and expanded second edition, Yamin incorporates crucial lessons learned about the state of global health equity and public health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating just how incompatible the current institutionalized world order—based on neoliberal, financialized capitalism—is with one in which the rights of diverse people around the globe can be realized. COVID-19 struck a world that had been shaped by decades of disinvestment in public health, health systems, and social protection, as well as privatization of wealth and gaping social inequalities within and between countries, and the evident crisis of confidence in the capacity of democratic political institutions and global governance was deepened by the pandemic. Yamin argues that transformative human rights praxis in health calls for addressing issues of structural inequality and political economy, and working across disciplinary silos through networks and social movements.

About the authors

Alicia Ely Yamin currently teaches law and public health at Harvard University. She has over thirty years of experience in human rights practice, living and working with advocacy organizations across the globe.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr is Professor of International Affairs at The New School and Chair of the UN Committee on Development Policy.

"In an increasingly unequal, fragmented, and unaccountable global order in which intellectual property rights trump health rights, this extraordinary book is a powerful call – by a scholar-activist dedicated to converting 'misfortune to be endured into injustice to be remedied' – to pursue human rights transformatively, to advance connection, dignity, equality, and social justice."

—Jackie Dugard, Columbia University

"This book makes you believe in the power of invoking human rights to advance health justice, especially if you're doubtful, despondent, or simply new to the topic. It is filled with stories that ignite a fire in you to do something, and insights to think through what you might do."

—Seye Abimbola, University of Sydney

"Alicia Yamin is able to combine, in a way that very few authors can, a sensitive and empathetic account of the tragic consequences of the widespread denial of the right to health with a deeply informed critique of global health policies. This book offers not only deep insights into the struggles to achieve health and social equality, but explains in highly readable and accessible terms what needs to be done. A wonderful read and an inspired guide."

—Philip Alston, Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University and former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (2014-2020)

"Yamin's book is a story of hope and the resilience that highlights how individuals, communities, and societies can confront power asymmetries and shift them to realise their health and human rights. The book provides a compelling account for students of health and human rights and for advocates on how human rights can be applied to transform the narrative from 'misfortune to be endured' to one of 'injustice to be remedied'."

—Rajat Khosla, The Lancet

"Yamin's book is a 'must read' for those emerged in the struggle for a healthy society, and for students of any stage of learning who seek to understand the history of and the potential of the human right to health."

—Louise C. Ivers, ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America

"It's quite a moment to pick up Alicia Ely Yamin's excellent book When Misfortune Becomes Injustice: Evolving Human Rights Struggles for Health and Social Equality. The recently released second edition is an informed, engaging, and deeply insightful stocktaking of limited but real advancements in the right to health, understood in the context of skyrocketing inequality and a prevailing global economic order that has rendered the fulfillment of that right all but impossible."

—Rebecca Riddell, Health and Human Rights Journal

Praise for the first edition

"Yamin draws on years of practical field experience to speak with unique authority among human rights scholars about the global and national dynamics that systematically produce poverty and health inequalities across the world."

—Paul E. Farmer, Harvard University, and Co-Founder and Chief Strategist of Partners In Health