IHP news #510 (February 22, 2019)

A new WHO report on global health expenditure

By on February 22, 2019



Dear Colleagues,

While the world is on fire and political winds are shifting (or so we hope), it’s fair to say this was a rather calm week in global health, with the exception of (the launch of) a new WHO report on global health expenditure. I might be biased, but it’s planetary health that is on everybody’s minds now, as well as global & national inequality, and the links between both. In a way, this is the SDG agenda playing out in real time, in many countries.

This week, Greta “I take no prisoners”  Thunberg joined the youth climate demonstrations in Brussels. The 16-year old girl  has sparked a global movement and we agree with many that this is one of the most encouraging trends in recent years. Even if it’s not global (yet) – that would require, among others, Chinese youth to join. Unfortunately, chances for that are slim, even if I know enough about Chinese young people to know that many deeply care about the planet too. But Chinese leaders have bad memories of Chinese youth taking to the streets.

While not every young person on the streets is “a Greta”, and so it remains to be seen whether this movement will continue to expand in the months & years to come, for me the most obvious difference between this youngsters’ movement and the “yellow vests” (a movement I also deeply sympathize with, even if it’s now fragmenting and probably dying out due to some of the violence in its slipstream) is the enormous vitality and enthusiasm of these young people, a striking contrast with – in the words of Edouard Louis – the body language of many yellow vests, many of whom reminded him of his broken father: “…. In the photos that accompanied the articles [on yellow vests], I saw bodies that almost never appear in the media or public space. Suffering bodies, ravaged by work, by fatigue, by hunger, by the permanent humiliation of the rulers towards the ruled, by social and geographical exclusion. I saw tired bodies, tired hands, bent backs, exhausted stares.”   Victims of the global economic system as we know it. For once, we saw footage of these victims in the ‘North’ rather than in the Global South, where there are many more of them.

Speaking of which, the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook for 2019 – released on World Day of Social Justice (20 Feb) warns that the world is “off track” to achieve many SDG 8 targets.  SDG 8 concerns ‘decent work and economic growth’, that most ambiguously phrased SDG of all SDGs, epitomizing the cognitive dissonance of the ‘holistic’ SDG agenda. Among others, “…a “staggering 2 billion workers,” or 61% of the world’s workforce, are categorized as informal”.

Against that global backdrop, it’s good to see that  ‘Economics of Inclusive Prosperity’ was launched last week by the likes of Rodrik et al. I don’t know whether it’s possible at all, as somebody from Extinction Rebellion put it recently, to “keep the good of capitalism, and get rid of the bad (& ugly)”. But it’s certainly more than urgent to have a decent try.  As Susan Neiman   put it in a recent book,  piercing the ‘youthful idealism/adult realism’ dichotomy (myth?), “…we adults should actually have ideals our whole life; a real adult continues to strive for a better world, knowing that his/her ideals are difficult to realize”. Even at my rather advanced age, I’m afraid I don’t (yet) qualify for being called a ‘real adult’, but it’s true that too many of us have become comfortably numb, and need to step up in the crucial times we face.  As David Wallace-Wells noted in a NYT op-ed last week, 2018 was the year in which we finally began to panic, as a world community –  “the age of climate panic is here”. So it’s (high) time to go for a full-out response, like in a World War. Fault lines are emerging, for example between a ‘carbon tax’ (and other market mechanisms), and a ‘Green New Deal’, but that’s only normal. An interesting argument I heard with respect to (the use/relevance of) our own (individual) environmental efforts tried to make an analogy with social security. If you pay your taxes, you have no individual responsibility to also do charity, the argument goes, so let’s make sure we also build a sustainable global economic system that doesn’t require you to go to great lengths when it comes to cutting your individual carbon footprint. Not sure the analogy is valid – and in both cases, you might actually want to do both – but it’s an interesting analogy.

Meanwhile, the hashtag #decoloniseHPSR took off, after a rather apt & angry tweet from Lucy Gilson.  Another sign of the shifting times, also in global health.

Enjoy your reading.

Kristof Decoster



(you find the pdf of the full newsletter here: IHPn510 )

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