Health Justice Book **


Sridhar Venkatapuram
Health Justice
An Argument from the
Capabilities Approach
Foreword by Sir Michael Marmot

Social factors have a powerful influence on human health and longevity. Yet the social dimensions of health are often obscured in public discussions due to the overwhelming focus in health policy on medical care, individual-level risk factor research, and changing individual behaviours. Likewise, in philosophical approaches to health and social justice, the debates have largely focused on rationing problems in health care and on personal responsibility. However, a range of events over the past two decades such as the study of modern famines, the global experience of HIV/AIDS, the international women’s health movement, and the flourishing of social epidemiological research have drawn attention to the robust relationship between health and broad social arrangements and policies.

Health Justice, Sridhar Venkatapuram takes up the problem of identifying what claims individuals have in regard to their health in modern societies and the globalized world. Recognizing the social bases of health and longevity, Venkatapuram extends the ‘Capabilities Approach’ of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum into the domain of health and health sciences. In so doing, he formulates an inter-disciplinary argument that draws on the natural and social sciences as well as debates around social justice to argue for every human being’s moral entitlement to a capability to be healthy.

An ambitious integration of the health sciences, human rights, and the Capabilities Approach, Health Justice aims to provide a concrete ethical grounding for the human right to health, while advancing the field of health policy and placing health at the centre of social justice theory.

UK Publishing 9 September 2011 • 288 pages
978-0-7456-5034-0 Hardback £55.00 • 978-0-7456-5035-7 Paperback £16.99

USA Publishing October 2011

Contact Sara Henning-Stout, Polity Marketing Tel: 01865 476146 Email:

Advance Praise for Health Justice:
Amartya Sen, Harvard University
Health Justice is a hugely important contribution to practical reason and to public policy.  It presents an illuminating investigation of why the capability to be healthy is central to social justice, and identifies what can be done here and now to pursue that much neglected philosophical perspective.’

Sir Michael Marmot, University College London
‘For those of us committed to taking action in the service of health equity, what this book represents is a theoretical justification for the emphasis on social justice. It is a theoretical justification but one firmly grounded in the evidence linking social conditions to health. It is a most welcome achievement.’

Paul Farmer, Harvard Medical School & Partners in Health
‘Do not mistake Sridhar Venkatapuram's Health Justice for an arcane treatise of interest to a small number of political philosophers. It is, rather, a bold consideration of human entitlement to “the capability to be healthy.”   Health Justice breathes much needed oxygen into old debates by integrating our understanding of the social determinants of health and illness—drawing on work in epidemiology and related fields—with what were previously insular philosophical debates regarding fairness and justice.  Venkatapuram interrogates regnant theories of social justice--many of them rooted in individualistic and biological conceptions of well being and almost none of them informed by modern understandings of causality and burden of disease that necessarily underpin our understanding of global health equity—and reveals how policies and social arrangements can either “nurture, protect, restore, neglect or thwart” our capability to enjoy health.

The book, which illuminates a stubborn “blind spot” in modern political philosophy, is also a call to action: as Venkatapuram notes, theories of justice serve as both goal and guide, highlighting health disparities while also laying the moral groundwork for social change.
I have no doubt that Health Justice will be required reading for philosophers and those interested in health disparities, but hope, too that it will be widely read by all those who formulate social policy—and by those, including physicians, who implement them.’

Jonathan Wolff, University College London & Centre for Philosophy, Justice and Health
‘A very impressive achievement.  Sridhar Venkatapuram is uniquely placed to bring together literature in political philosophy and social epidemiology to generate a persuasive capability approach to health justice.  This book is a major contribution to debates in the definition of health, the capability approach to justice, and global health ethics.’

Lennart Nordenfelt, Linköping University
Health Justice is a crucial and impressive work. In contrast to earlier theorists, it argues convincingly for a theory of social justice that recognizes people’s moral right to the capability to be healthy. Venkatapuram combines a wealth of insights from sources such as philosophy of health and welfare, political science and economics. Thereby he makes a fascinating original contribution to the theory of health and welfare.’


"Health Justice is a landmark achievement, dense carefully argued, and bold in its conclusions.....This book is an excellent read for anyone who takes an interest in the moral and political aspects of health and health inequalities."
Sociology of Health & Illness

"Provides a lucent account of the intersection of health policy and social justice and helps explains why it is unfair to saddle the poor with expectations that they may not be able to meet ... There is an elegance to the writing and an intellectual depth in its formulation that builds to a crescendo of argument richly accessible to the nonspecialized reader. I have little doubt that Health Justice will become a classic in the ever-important 'health-rights' genre, a literature that will be profoundly influenced by the addition of this important contribution."
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

"Venkatapuram presents a highly persuasive philosophical argument that the capability to be healthy needs to be recognized as a basic moral entitlement in the same way as other fundamental human rights ... This is a stimulating read which, while presenting a challenging philosophical argument, is rooted in the real world."
Journal of Public Health

"Rich and inspiring"
Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights

"Venkatapuram elegantly and ambitiously articulates a new theory of health justice, which directly engages with alleviating the daily suffering of those who endure health injustice ... Health Justice is a thought-provoking, extensively researched book, which should reinvigorate the health and human rights debate in global health governance circles."
International Affairs

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)  May 16 2012;307(19):2106-2106
Journal of Public Health online March 2012
International Affairs 88: 3 (2012) 643–645
Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 30: 2 (2012) 245-248
Sociology of Health & Illness  Volume 34, Issue 7, pages 1118–1119, September 2012
Journal of Social Policy  Volume 41, Issue 04, October 2012, pp 847-849
Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice Volume 18, Issue 5, pages 1116–1118, October 2012
Advances in Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation January 2013
Critical Public Health Published online first, February 2013
International Sociology  Vol. 28 no. 2 155-167  March 2013
Political Studies Review Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 248–249, May 2013
Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy   Volume 16, Issue 2, May 2013
Theoretical Medicine & Bioethics October 2013

Short Biography:
Sridhar Venkatapuram is a Lecturer in Global Health and Philosophy, and Director of Global Health & Social Justice Programme at King's College London.  He was previously a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow and Lecturer in ethics at LSHTM,  Research Fellow at UCL, and Affiliated Lecturer at Cambridge University.  From 2008 to 2011 he was a co-investigator on an ESRC-DFID research project with Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. 

Sridhar has been at the forefront of health ethics and global health for over twenty years.  He was awarded an honours distinction for his undergraduate international relations dissertation on HIV/AIDS and human rights in the early 1990s at Brown well before HIV/AIDS  was widely recognized as a global health and development  issue; he was a pioneer of the health and human rights movement as the first researcher at Human Rights Watch to examine HIV/AIDS and other health issues directly as human rights concerns; and at the age of 25 he was supported by the Ford Foundation to provide human rights training to the first cohort of Indian HIV/AIDS organizations.  At Harvard, he worked with the late Arjun Sengupta, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development in conceptualizing its philosophical and ethical framework.

He has worked as a consultant for a variety of international organizations including the Open Society Institute, the Population Council, and Doctors of the World-USA.  He holds a number of academic degrees in a range of disciplines including international relations (Brown), international public health (Harvard), sociology (Cambridge)  and political philosophy (Cambridge).  Sridhar has won numerous awards, scholarships, fellowships, and grants including exceptional cases where awards have been doubled.  He was awarded a major research grant while he was still completing his PhD.  In 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship which fully supports a fellow for three years to undertake their own pioneering research.   He gives lectures around the world on global health, right to health, and the philosophy and ethics of health and health inequalities.  He has been elected a fellow of the RSA and the Human Development and Capability Association.  He was a fellow of the UK Parliament Office of Science & Technology in 2012. 

Health Justice is Sridhar's first book.  It is based on over twenty years of global public health field experience, cutting edge philosophical research, and inter-disciplinary reasoning aimed to transform the way we think about public health and health policy, and puts health and health inequalities at the center of social and global justice theory and practice.  

He is currently working on his second book titled Global Health Ethics & Politics.