The struggle for health and social justice has a long and proud history that has been driven by diverse social movements involving many individuals and organisations in different contexts. Prominent historical examples include: the birth of the UK’s NHS in the wake of the Second World War victory which was significantly the result of working class sacrifice, Brazil’s wide-ranging health reforms ushered in after the overthrow of the
dictatorship, and Zimbabwe’s social progress in the 1980s following the popular struggle for liberation from minority rule, and many others.
As stated in the introduction this book is a tool to support movement-building at the country level, and to contribute to the creation of a global movement for health. Many will ask why such a tool is necessary. Are we not informed by the mainstream media and global institutions that health everywhere is improving ? And aren’t progressive social change and health improvement inevitable ? Indeed, is it worth the effort to build a broad-based movement for health such as the People's Health Movement ?
Our point of departure is passionately conveyed in the testimony of a participant in the second People's Health Assembly: “Illness and death every day anger us. Not because there are people who get sick or because there are people who die. We are angry because many illnesses and deaths have their roots in the economic and social policies that are imposed on us.” We would add to this the following – excerpted from the publication of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health ‘Closing the Gap in a Generation’ - “( The ) toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible. [...] Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.”
In short, while on average life expectancy and health status are improving globally, the rate of improvement is much slower than what is possible and the growing inequalities in health experienced between and within countries are both unnecessary and unacceptable. Today there are more than enough resources and technical know-how to prevent most suffering and premature death. This is the rationale for a social movement for health equity. This book is intended to be an aid in this struggle for health equity.
For those of us who have been intimately involved in trying, over several decades, to strengthen such a social movement, this book is timely and unique in the bewildering and growing mountain of literature on ‘global health’. Chiara Bodini, the editorial group and the many contributors of the diverse case studies have succeeded in filling an important gap and provided us with a very useful weapon to assist us in the most important and pressing human endeavour, the struggle for health, which is the struggle for liberation from hunger, poverty and unjust socio-economic structures.
David Sanders & Maria Hamlin Zuniga
founding members of the International Peoples Health Council and the People's Health Movement