Huber et al. (2011) say that health is the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges. And I would include in this last definition the spiritual challenges, as well.

There are multiple elements we could think of when discussing how to guarantee the right to health, for instance, access and quality of health services. Although these elements could be taken as transversals in all societies, they can be materialized in different ways, depending on the context and the needs of each population. 

In our pluri-cultural countries, there is a vast variety of expressions of health. People could be considered healthy if they can study and work, live a long life, eat any food without restriction, or participate in the activities of the community, or just for having no disease. But for every person this conception can change, due to different aspects like origin, traditions, and beliefs. In that sense, it is important to know what is important to every person to achieve health.  

Jesus, especially, is fully aware of the importance of listening to a persons needs before performing a miracle. We can see it in several passages. Matthew 8:1-3 is one example that portrays it wonderfully; there is a man with leprosy who told Jesus,Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” and Jesus responds to his plea by making him clean. In this passage, there is a clear request from a man who considers that making him clean is the main unmet need he wants Jesus to address. He could have asked for anything, but he knew being cleaned from leprosy was the main thing he wanted.

Just as Jesus did, we need to listen to peoples needs and context to give accurate answers that can have a positive impact on their health, otherwise, we will continue looking for decontextualized alternatives that can do more harm than good.

May the Lord keep our eyes and ears open to look for opportunities to advocate for the right to health, keeping in mind that the needs and desires of each population can vary, but remembering that just as Jesus did, we are called to get close to our neighbor, be active listeners and respond according to their needs.    


World Health Organization. (1948). Summary Reports on Proceedings Minutes and Final Acts of the International Health Conference held in New York from 19 June to 22 July 1946. World Health Organization, available from:

Huber, M., Knottnerus, J. A., Green, L., van der Horst, H., Jadad, A. R., Kromhout, D., Leonard, B., Kate L., Loureiro, M. I., van der Meer, J. W. M., Schnabel, P., Smith, R., van Weel, C., & Smid, H. (2011). How should we define health? British Medical Journal, 343, d4163. doi:10.1136/bmj.d4163.

About the author :

Lorena Catalina Bonilla Garcia, is member of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on Health and Healing. She is also the Chairperson of the Mental Health Working Group of the Commission. Lorena hails from Colombia and is a member of the Mennonite Church. She is a trained Nurse, committed to the empowerment of vulnerable communities and the implementation of timely interventions for the well-being of the population. Apart from her active voluntary services as a young person in the church, coordinating intergenerational dialogues among the members of the community, she works as a research assistant at the Public Health Institute of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in a project related to the healthcare reform that the Colombian government is promoting.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

Related programmes