5th People’s Health Assembly begins in Mar del Plata

Hundreds of health activists are gathering at the 5th People’s Health Assembly to discuss strategies for health justice amid the crisis in Argentina and the Israeli war on Gaza

April 08, 2024 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Photo: People's Health Movement

Over 600 activists from around the world have converged in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to launch the 5th People’s Health Assembly (PHA 5). Under the motto “Making ‘Health for All’ our path to ‘Buen Vivir'”, the activists have renewed their commitment to health justice, particularly during times of crisis. This commitment comes at a critical time, marked by the policies of the Milei government in Argentina against public services and the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza.

Read more: What to expect from the 5th People’s Health Assembly?

“When the local chapter of the People’s Health Movement (PHM) began preparations for hosting the PHA, Argentina was a different country,” said Carmen Baez, sub-regional coordinator of PHM’s Southern Cone region. In just three months of governance, Javier Milei has severely impacted Argentina’s public services, including through mass layoffs.

The new government’s actions against the Argentine people, including the deterioration of relationships with other Latin American countries with left-leaning governments like Bolivia, Colombia, and Brazil, in an attempt to align more closely with the West, have cast a dark shadow over daily life in the country. Yet, as journalist and historian Vijay Prashad reminded the Assembly during a discussion on the impact of imperialism and colonialism on health, Argentina’s legacy of social movements sets it apart from the Western allies Milei seeks to join.

Argentina boasts of progressive medical education programs, such as the School of Medicine at the University of Mar del Plata, which prepare young health workers not only in their future professions but also in understanding and engaging with the struggles of the communities they will serve. Adrián Alasino, head of Mar del Plata’s medical school, emphasized the importance of preserving such spaces amidst threats from the national government to defund and discontinue them.

Moreover, Milei’s revisionist take on Argentina’s history of dictatorship and resistance has been met with active remembrance by the Argentine people of the tens of thousands disappeared and killed during the dictatorship, integrating this collective memory into all activist spaces.

In recognition of this part of Argentina’s history, the PHA 5 celebrated the presence of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, honoring their perseverance and dedication to the struggle for justice. Their presence, alongside Argentina’s community health workers and activists, underscores the importance PHM places on grassroots initiatives.

“At the heart of our assembly lies the power of people’s movements. Hearing the testimonies of those at the forefront of struggle ignites a fire in our collective spirit, reminding us of the resilience and solidarity that fuels our journey towards health for all,” said Carmen Baez, co-convenor of PHA 5.

Over five days, Assembly participants will delve into five interrelated themes: the transformation of the health system, gender justice in health, resisting war and occupation, ecosystem health, and ancestral and popular knowledge. While health struggles are often tackled separately, the PHA provides a platform for these issues to converge.

As Baez and Roman Vega, PHM Global Coordinator, noted in their opening remarks, the Assembly’s program is the culmination of months of collaboration among health activists from various fields, shaped by PHM’s analysis of the current geopolitical climate.

A significant portion of the program is dedicated to healthcare in the Gaza Strip. The opening session featured speakers from Palestine who focused on the Israeli genocidal onslaught against Palestinians from the perspectives of women’s rights, political prisoners, and health workers. The devastating impact of Israel’s attacks has severely damaged health infrastructure across Palestine, with hundreds of health workers killed or abducted.

Despite the unprecedented violence, the speakers warned that the Israeli Occupation Forces would not succeed in quashing Palestinian resistance. And despite repression and attempts to silence Palestinian voices, the global community will continue to hear about Palestine and its resistance to Israel’s settler-colonial project. “They will not break us,” Dr. Mustafa Barghouti declared during PHA 5.

“Many countries and the free people of the world are standing with the Palestinian people today in their tragedy, and are struggling alongside our people to stop the war and support their right to stop the occupation and hold it accountable for its crimes that are affecting all people with a living conscience; people who refuse to accept such crimes. We call on you today to stand with all these free voices consciences in the world,” PHM Palestine stated during the Assembly.

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