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Building Back Better Everywhere: Health Inequities, Sustainable Development, and the Human Right To Science

Entry Author:
Kelly Bohrer

The ETHOS Center, University of Dayton



According to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, inequality has become the defining quality of the 21st century with the COVID-19 pandemic laying bare how unequal we are within and between countries. Understanding and addressing histories of discrimination in benefitting from scientific advancement (the human right to science) and access to vaccines and cures requires listening to marginalized communities. Addressing this issue in relation to psychology, Moderator Neal Rubin introduced the session as learning about different vulnerable communities and how their access to advancements in science, including for COVID-19, are often plagued by political and economic systems of injustice. The first talk reviewed how our colonial history and systems that replicate valuing self over others impacts the level of COVID-19 risk for American Indigenous communities. The second talk explored the disparities in communities of people of African descent, tying their lack of access to a healthy and sustainable environment for wellbeing to historical and structural racism. The social determinants of health, UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, and the need for a human rights-based approach to address vulnerable communities were discussed. The third talk explored definitions of disability and how definitions that stress social models and an understanding of barriers as not just physical, but also attitudinal, are more helpful for exploring how communities of people with disabilities are denied their rights. Two frameworks were shared for examining disability and rights, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and SDGs 4, 8, 10, 11, and 17. The fourth talk shared the different ways refugees suffer from inequity and discrimination – from their home country to their host country.  The presenter talked about the need for early integration for success as an immigrant in the host country, and measures for successful integration.



  1. Neal Rubin
    Core Faculty, Clinical Psychology, Adler University; co-editor, The Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Human Rights
  2. Art (Arthur) Blume
    Professor, Department of Psychology, Washington State University; Rockefeller and American Psychological Association Fellow
  3. Roseanne Flores
    Professor in the Department of Psychology, Hunter College of the City University of New York; co-editor, The Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Human Rights
  4. Jin Hashimoto
    PhD Candidate, Kanazawa University; Assistant Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan
  5. Brigitte Khoury
    Director of Clinical Psychology Training Program, the American University of Beirut



  • Inequality in opportunities to access advancements of health and science and how advancements can further replicate inequalities.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the SDGs can serve as frameworks for identifying and addressing inequalities in access to health and wellbeing.
  • Social science can be effectively harnessed to address disparities suffered by communities of indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, people of African descent, and refugees and immigrants.
  • It is important to have full inclusion of these communities in addressing the issues, creating policies, and realizing the global development agenda.



  1. A social science approach focusing on the SDGs and human rights can offer much in responding to the needs of vulnerable communities who have been marginalized and oppressed by systems of inequity and injustice. 
  2. The SDGs provide many indicators for advancing equity, justice, health, and wellbeing for vulnerable communities. Achieving these goals will require full inclusion as well as dismantling systems of oppression.


Key Words

  1. Health inequity
  2. Human right to science
  3. Sustainable Development Goals
  4. Vulnerable communities
  5. Bioecological model
  6. Social models
  7. COVID-19 inequality