Would Martin Luther King Agree?

Today is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth. It’s a good day to think about health justice.

Over a billion poor people around the world are still waiting for their right to health to be “progressively realised”, as mandated seventy years ago by the United Nations in the Constitution* of the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the WHO is the ‘guardian’ of the right to health and the leading global health authority, it has failed to press its Member States to advance this right or to implement a human rights-based approach (HRBA) in health programmes. The WHO appears to ignore the fact that it signed, along with all the other UN agencies, the Common Understanding on adopting the HRBA in 2003, which requires signatories to use the rights-based framework in their practices and to help national governments to do the same. This ongoing failure at the ‘top’ of global health makes it almost impossible for the ‘bottom billion’ to claim or demand their rights, and limits the capacity of community organisations to respond to local health needs.

Although meaningful participation of affected people and their civil society organisations is a key principle of the HRBA, the WHO does not allow more than a token voice from folks from these communities. The WHO’s general exclusion of civil society participation has also weakened the position of NGOs working to improve health and well being in communities everywhere — Governments look to to WHO to set standards, and some see that keeping civil society out of programme development and implementation is a model to follow. The message from Geneva is that NGOs may possibly be allowed to be service providers, but not to contribute to the design of the programme nor to hold governments to account, nor even to simply advocate for improved public health services.

Dark clouds are fast approaching. Our rights are being rolled-back in many countries through cutbacks in public health expenditures, privatisation of services, and increased discrimination against marginalised communities. Even the concept of global health as a ‘public good’ is now at risk from growing nationalism, the decreased support of multilateral institutions such as the United Nation’s agencies and the increasing influence of the profit-seeking health industry. In dozens of countries, civil society organisations are under attack by governments that see NGOs as a threat to their authority, not as a partner. Even raising a voice in support of our rights is becoming more difficult, and finding the resources to organise and mobilise to defend them has become almost impossible.

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Dear WHO Candidates: Push FCGH

Dear WHO DG Candidates: Push FCGH

I don’t like to re-post articles by ‘big shots’ at the top when people on the bottom are denied a say. But WHO is having elections for the next Director and maybe it is a chance to push the Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) and the right to health. Even if the people at the top hear only their own kind, it is good for us to at least see what they are saying.  So here is an article by Precious Matsoso and Mushtaque Chowdhury, and maybe both are not too big to understand what is needed by millions of little folks.  –Stella  (@UppityCup)

The World Health Organization process of selecting a new director-general moves into high gear this week. As the U.S. presidential election has held global attention for much of 2016, this is likely the most important vote the world isn’t watching. We cannot afford to ignore the WHO leadership choice, which comes in the midst of a global health crisis.

That crisis is the ongoing epidemic of health inequalities. It is an emergency that lurks beneath the headlines, existing instead in the daily realities of vast portions of the world’s population. We come from two countries, South Africa and Bangladesh, where our governments and civil society are making tremendous efforts to improve the health of our people. We have seen important strides, including scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa and unprecedented progress in child and maternal health in Bangladesh.

Yet we continue to see snapshots of huge global inequalities of health on a regular basis. In a sprawling township outside Cape Town, many residents live in wood, tin, and plastic shacks, with toilets far and few between. The latrines are often unusable and, even when functioning, unsafe for women and children to access. In isolated parts of Bangladesh, meanwhile, it is still not unusual for a woman to give birth on the dirt floor of her own home without any trained personnel present.

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