The fourth People’s Health Assembly, a major international conference of public health activists from across the globe, is all set to begin on Friday, 16 November, in Savar, near the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
More than 1200 participants delegates from about 60 countries are expected to participate in the Assembly, where they will discuss key processes and policies that affect health and healthcare all over the world.
The People’s Health Assembly (PHA) is organised by the People’s Health Movement (PHM), a global network of grassroots health activists, civil society organisations and academic institutions.
Doctors, health workers, medical practitioners and activists attending the assembly would share experiences and plan future strategies for action to secure universal and equitable access to health and health care.
Eduardo Espinoza, the Deputy Health Minister of El Salvador, will be delivering the opening Plenary Session of the Assembly on Friday.
Returning to the venue of the first Assembly
This year the People’s Health Assembly is returning, after 18 years, to Savar, where the very first Assembly was held in December 2000. The People’s Health Movement was founded at the Assembly, which adopted the People’s Charter for Health, the founding document of the Movement.
The first PHA and the People’s Health Charter it adopted emerged as a response to the failure of the countries of the world to achieve the goal of “Health for All by the Year 2000” that they had set for themselves as part of the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978.
The Declaration was made at the International Conference on Primary Health Care held that year in the Kazakh capital of Alma-Ata (today known as Almaty), by ministers from 134 countries in association with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
The second Assembly was held in Cuenca, Ecuador in July 2005, and the third Assembly was held in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2012.
People’s Health Movement
The People’s Health Movement is driven by a vision which considers health a social, economic and political issue and above all a fundamental human right.
As the Preamble to the People’s Health Charter says, “Inequality, poverty, exploitation, violence and injustice are at the root of ill-health and the deaths of poor and marginalised people. Health for all means that powerful interests have to be challenged, that globalisation has to be opposed, and that political and economic priorities have to be drastically changed.”
PHM’s prominent activities include the publication of the Global Health Watch, an alternative to the WHO’s World Health Report, and the International People’s Health University (IPHU). The IPHU is PHM’s principal educational and research programme, and has organised short, mostly two-week long, courses titled ‘The Struggle for Health’ in about 20 countries in 9 languages, attended by more than 1500 young health activists from more than 60 countries.
One such IPHU course was held in the run-up to the fourth PHA, at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra (People’s Health Centre) in Savar, Bangladesh, which was the venue of the first Assembly in the year 2000. Most of the participants of the course also would be participating in the People’s Health Assembly.
Participants of the Assembly, among whom are a large number of young activists, include representatives of various organisations and institutions working in the field of public health, including popular science movements, trade unions, women’s organisations, other civil society organisations, governments, inter-governmental bodies, and academic institutions.
The Assembly hopes to call attention to the “global health crisis that is characterised by inequities related to a range of social determinants of health and in access to health services within countries and between countries”, according to the concept note for the conference.
The discussions at the Assembly would revolve around four “thematic axes” – (1) the political and economic landscape of development and health, (2) social and physical environments that destroy or promote health, (3) strengthening health systems to make them just, accountable, comprehensive, integrated and networked, and (4) organizing and mobilizing for Health for All.
Speaking to People’s Dispatch, David Legge, member of the PHM’s Global Steering Council said, “I hope that we make strong progress towards convergence – across differences, across issues, across race, gender, sexual orientation, nationalities, convergence with a more strongly held understanding of the way in which the neoliberal regime is in so many different ways destroying the health chances of people in so many different countries.”
“I also hope that there would be convergence in recognising that the specific struggles in particular places are unique and have to be addressed locally, but we also need to find ways of addressing those local problems in ways that also contribute to the common drivers which are reproducing those problems,” Legge added.
(The authors are researchers at the New Delhi office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research)