Every year approximately 18 million people die prematurely from treatable medical conditions including infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies. The deaths occur primarily amongst the poorest citizens of poor developing nations. Various groups and individuals have advanced plans for major international medical aid to avert many of these unnecessary deaths. For example, the World Health Organization's Commission on Macroeconomics and Health estimated that eight million premature deaths could be prevented annually by interventions costing roughly US$57 bn per year.
This essay advances an argument that human rights require high-income nations to provide such aid. The essay briefly examines John Rawls’ obligations of justice and the reasons that their applicability to cases of international medical aid remains controversial. Regardless, the essay argues that purely humanitarian obligations bind the governments and citizens of high-income liberal democracies at a minimum to provide major medical aid to avert premature deaths in poor nations. In refusing to undertake such medical relief efforts, developed nations fail to adequately protect a fundamental human right to life.