People’s Health Assembly in Colombia will be a milestone in struggles for right to health

The People’s Health Movement is mobilizing for the 5th People’s Health Assembly, which will take place in Cali, Colombia, in December this year

May 04, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Health activists during the announcement of the 5th People’s Health Assembly in Bogotá, April 29-30, 2023. Ati Quigua/Twitter

Health activists from Latin America gathered at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá on April 30 to launch mobilizations ahead of the 5th People’s Health Assembly (PHA 5). The assembly will take place in Cali from December 4-8. It will be accompanied by the beginning of a People’s Health Tribunal on Transnational Corporations’ Violations of the Right to Health. The last People’s Health Assembly was held in Savar, Bangladesh in 2018.

The participants of PHA 5 will discuss the ongoing struggles and dangers facing access to the right to health. The program will be structured around five thematic axes – Towards the transformation of health systems; Gender justice in health; Ecosystem health: food, energy, climate’ Resisting forced migration and war; and Ancestral and popular knowledge and practices.

The People’s Health Assembly is one of the key global programs of the People’s Health Movement (PHM). According to Hani Serag, Co-Chair of PHM: “At the first PHA in Bangladesh in 2000, we reaffirmed the importance of achieving Health for All and a New International Economic Order. More than 20 years later, health activists will meet in Colombia to say that we are still ready to fight for those aims, and we are not leaving health to the mercy of the market and austerity measures.”

The fact that the PHA 5 will take place in Colombia is of particular regional significance considering the current political context. Health movements in Latin America, including the one in Colombia, are leading a campaign for major health reforms. Some of the legislative changes announced recently could easily represent a step towards better access to health for those who were left at the mercy of private health providers and health insurance companies for decades.

Read | Colombia’s health system could finally see changes that put people over profit

Carmen Baez, coordinator of PHM’s Southern Cone region, pointed out that the assembly will take place as people in Latin America continue to oppose neoliberalism. Women’s and youth movements are marching ahead in their struggles, as are the people fighting against privatization of healthcare, against extractivism and in support of food sovereignty. 

“As we mobilize in the lead up to the PHA 5, we are guided by the conviction that if we don’t fight for the protection of Mother Earth, against the existing hegemonies, we will not achieve the better world we dream of. Our ancestors and their wisdom are a guiding light for us in this context, which will make it possible for us to achieve a new world economic order,” said Baez.

She also underlined that the PHA 5 will be an opportunity to support the local movements and to learn from them. “The young people who are organizing the Assembly previously fought on the streets against harmful reforms, including harmful health reforms. By fighting on the streets, they learned about popular mobilization, about health in the community, and now they are continuing to fight for a more just and inclusive health system,” said Baez.

Cali was chosen to host the Assembly due to the city’s strong history with social movements and spirit of resistance, strength, and struggle. Ennue Fajardo, a health activist and member of the organizing committee of the PHA 5, said, “The possibility of change in Colombia is represented in the Black and joyful rebellion of Cali, in the critical and transformative health coming from the neighborhoods, the rural areas, and the social alternative that we are weaving.  Holding the Assembly here will make it possible to weave collectively, strengthening the mobilizing force.”

In parallel to the formal announcement of the PHA 5, activists from PHM Latin America held a meeting where they agreed on a joint declaration reaffirming the universal right to health. Once again, the activists positioned themselves against the model of health business conglomerates in Colombia and beyond. In the declaration they called for, among other things, comprehensive primary health care, the recognition of the plurality of Indigenous peoples and ancestral knowledge, and dignifying working conditions in the health sector.

Building upon the local and regional struggles, the PHA 5 will be “an Assembly for the exchange of experiences, the construction of routes of solidarity and collective fabric, the vindication of the rights from the gathering, social and popular mobilization,” concluded the declaration.

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