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Towards enlarged global health thinking

By Linda Mans
on May 14, 2018

At the launch of the fifth Global Health Watch  a short time ago in Brussels, planetary health and justice were very much in my thoughts. This is where health meets ecology.

Some 20 years ago, the home base of the Global Health Watch, People’s Health Movement, was founded by grassroots health activists, civil society organizations and academic institutions from around the world to mobilize people for the right to health. Wim de Ceukelaire was one of the founders and present at the launch. ‘Our motivation was the injustice and inequality due to economic and social policies that are imposed on us and that create sickness and death among us’, he said. Today, People’s Health Movement is a world-wide NGO with a presence in around 70 countries.

De Ceukelaire’s words made me think of how we, as civil society, are facing the urgent need to call upon our governments to act in accordance with the right to health for all. The need is given by the present state of affairs, which, in the words of David McCoy, Professor of Global Public Health at Queen Mary University London, is characterized by rising inequality and the prospect of ecological collapse, which are together leading us into an era of unpredictability and political instability.

‘Governance for health is being held captive by private foundations and corporations’, stated McCoy. To the powerful neoliberalist mindset belongs the idea that governments are a threat to corporate liberty, and that humans are driven by the wish to maximize their utility. Furthermore, neoliberals see inequality and social hierarchy not only as beneficial, but also as ‘natural’.

It goes without saying that those who benefit from the current situation are the ones least affected by environmental crises or other human-made disasters. Therefore, they fail to see the connection with the ‘slow violence’ of over-exploitation of the planet that threatens us all.

In my view, the present moment asks for a movement for health and social justice that goes beyond health. The People’s Health Movement is certainly a good start, but, as McCoy suggests, broader coalitions & alliances need to be sought. Along the same lines, Freudenberg emphasizes in his book Lethal but Legal that “harmful consequences of corporations on our society, such as income inequality, subverted democracy, and environmental degradation, have been underemphasized by those working on health, limiting the potential for broader alliances.”

Kate Raworth provides in her book Doughnut Economics the doughnut model of social and planetary boundaries, which serves as an apt visualization for such an enlarged global health thinking.

Raworth urges and guides us to move beyond being addicted to economic growth to being growth agnostic. She shows how to improve humanity’s well-being while eliminating the social shortfall and ecological overshoot, and, at the same time, staying within the ecologically safe and socially just space in which people have the possibility to thrive. For us as civil society organizations working for global health this means that we will need to join forces with organizations concerned with migration, environment, and economic justice, among others. Naomi Klein et al.’s  ‘The Leap Manifesto’ can serve as inspiration.

Tax justice is a good example of how to join forces across the sectors, my colleague Renee de Jong put forth. Tax for carbon and other polluting emissions, a financial transaction tax, a tax on natural resources or on the capital of the 1% richest could be a start to move to a fairer global system based on global public goods such as strong health systems and decent work conditions for health workers.






This blog is adapted from Towards enlarged global health thinking  (published earlier on Wemos). 

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