Fran Baum: The conclusion of the Third People’s Health Assembly

Fran BaumThe last three plenary sessions of the Third People’s Health Assembly (PHA) were used to debate the People’s Health Movement’s (PHM) strategies and priorities for the future. These sessions enabled the health activists from around the world to build on their experiences, and devise the issues that the PHM will address in coming years. Key strategies agreed on were: strengthening country circles to act on the PHM’s Right to Health Campaign; a global campaign on the adverse health and environmental effects of extractive industries around the world; a food security campaign focusing on the health consequences of the growth of transnational food corporations, which are selling increasing amounts of high fat and sugar foods and drinks, and causing the obesity epidemic, as well as undermining indigenous food protection. Finally we agreed on a campaign against the privatisation of health services, which will document the ways in which public ownership and control of health services is being undermined by various forms of public private partnerships and outsourcing of previously publicly provided services. Each of these campaigns will form part of PHM’s broader focus on the right to health.

The plenary sessions were supported by sub-plenaries addressing the issue of “Mobilising for health for all.” Darby Santiago, Philippines, spoke of the multiple strategies used including encouraging medical graduates to stay in their country and not join the “brain drain,” building strategic alliances with progressive thinkers in the bureaucracy, and campaigning to free the “Morang 43”—health workers imprisoned for their political activism.  Vinay Ariyaratne, Sri Lanka, described the work of the non-government organisation he heads—Sarvodaya, which has a five stage village development process, which starts with changing people’s minds so that they believe they can change their lives and then works with them to develop economic programmes. The PHA programme was interspersed by local accounts of actions taken to promote health within communities and challenge the power bases which threat the achievement of health for all.

The PHA concluded with a march through Cape Town which ended at Parliament House. We handed in a statement from the South African National Assembly and a draft of the Cape Town Call to Action to the South African Parliament. The Call to Action was unanimously endorsed in the final plenary of the assembly. It details the nature of the current political, financial, ecological, and food crises affecting health. It also sets out an alternative vision of how the world would be if it truly supported health equity and, concludes with a section on the actions that are necessary to work towards that world. The march through the streets of Cape Town encapsulated the spirit of the PHA—there was much singing, dancing, and chanting. There were people assembled in their national and regional groups and the result was a colourful array of people of all colours united in their passion for making the world a healthier place.

Fran Baum is a professor of public health. She is the director of the Southgate Institute of Health, Society, and Equity, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia and co-chair of the Global Steering Committee, People’s Health Movement. She is an Australian Research Council Federation fellow.