Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Commodity vs. Right: Global health and the “pathologies of power”

By Elsadig Elsheikh, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Thirty years ago in Alma Ata - the capital city of the republic of Kazakhstan- the Declaration of Alma Ata (DAA) urged governments, international funding agencies and organizations, and all health and development workers to protect and promote health for all. The DAA strongly reaffirmed that health “is a fundamental human right and that the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal.” Nonetheless, today the health of two-thirds of the planet’s population has deteriorated since then. One might ask, why? The answer lies within the political structure of our global system. The system- guided by the ideology of disempowering the vulnerable and the marginalized- gives way to top-heavy economic growth and looks after the interests of transnational corporations that institute the will of the few global financial institutions.

Thirty years after its publication, the DAA’s principles still possess convincing arguments for the importance of ‘health for all’ through community-based primary health care systems. Its visionary qualities present the potential genesis of ‘health for all’ to fulfill the human rights doctrine, since it incorporates and underscores the relevance of socio-economic and political factors and unequal development. The DAA’s principals also acknowledge the cyclical crisis of health care systems world-wide, particularly in Third World countries. Yet despite the polemical dimension of the DAA, its principles have been ignored by the market-based global economy.

The DAA asserted that the right to health is a fundamental constituent of the human rights’ agenda; therefore, its achievement required a comprehensive approach to societal infirmity. The political practices that put economic growth before human needs to achieve ‘evenhanded’ development were a complete breakdown not only for Third World societies, but for marginalized groups in the economically advanced world as well. As the DAA averred in 1978, the health attainment for all is required to achieve “sustained economic and social development.” The DAA had foreseen that attaining “health for all” not only would sustain development, but would also “contribute to a better quality of life and to world peace.” Nevertheless, today we know that over 83% of the 6.8 billion humans lack basic access to primary health care due to the nature of the global economic system. It’s beyond tragedy to witness the current imposed global system launching wars to uphold “human rights” and defending “democratic values,” while denying the right to health for the majority of our fellow humans. In order for us - as a global human society - to reach humanistic solidarity, the right to health should be treated as a fundamental human rights’ pillar, and not considered as a tradable commodity.

For further discussion on this topic please see my full-length piece on the Kirwan Institute website. (Link)


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