The Truth About Global Health

Martin Drewry, “The Truth About Global Health,” The Huffington Post UK, 27/05/2013

As the World Health Assembly draws to a close and the great and the good in global health head home, it’s time to focus on some truths about health.

1. Technology is not the (only) answer

The World Health Organization tends to focus on scientific and technical matters, but is that enough? …

But it’s not. Of the 39million people living with HIV only eight million have access to antiretroviral drugs, 660,000 people died from malaria in 2010, and in 2011 8.7million people fell ill with tuberculosis. All of this despite comparatively easy technological fixes being available. So technology, it seems, is only one part of the puzzle.

2. We will not improve health if we do not tackle poverty

In my role as the director of an NGO that works to strengthen marginalised communities in their struggle for health, I am constantly reminded of the root causes of ill health; the social and economic reasons that people live unhealthy lives.  …

Around the world, for millions of people, the cause of their illness is poverty; lack of nutritious food and clean water, poor sanitary conditions in which to live, and lack of education and employment. Poverty is the cause, and sickness is the result.

But of course we already knew that. Everyone knows that poverty and poor health are closely connected. Perhaps what we don’t always remember quite so well is that it doesn’t need to be this way.

3. Poverty is not inevitable

It’s estimated that the wealthiest 0.1% of people in the world own 81% of the financial wealth in the world. In fact, the richest 300 individuals in the world have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3billion.

It’s so easy to be lulled into a belief that this appalling level of inequality is inevitable. But it simply isn’t! This global imbalance in resources is an avoidable phenomenon. It has come about as a result of specific policies and decisions made by those who seek to extract wealth from others, those who are part of a poverty creation industry.  …

4. This is good news!

It may not seem like it, but yes, this is in fact good news. The fact that poverty is created by human tools and systems means humans have the ability to change it. We can create new tax laws that stop tax evasion so that the world’s poorest countries can fund their health systems. We can redraft trade agreements so that they strengthen the most vulnerable traders rather than the most powerful ones. We can change patent rules and other agreements so that public health is placed above corporate profits.

The World Health Organization’s scientific and technical work matters, but if the organisation is to fill its mandate it needs to focus much more on tackling the social and economic causes of poor health. We all do. We have the technical ability to do all these things. All we need to do is mobilise together to generate the political will. …

Read the full article here.