Lecturer in Public Health, University of Stirling
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Guest Blog: The People’s Health Movement: What Do We Mean by the Right to Health?

This blog was written by Johanna Hemminger, a student at the University of Edinburgh and volunteer with the People's Health Movement Scotland. It relates to a PHM Scotland session held at the DECLARATION Festival in Edinburgh on 3rd March 2017.

Remco van de Pas discussing the Right To Health at the global level

Remco van de Pas discussing the Right To Health at the global level

 

 

On Friday morning, an audience of healthcare workers, students, interested citizens, activists, and others heard a panel presented by the People’s Health Movement (PHM) who pursue the “right to health” for all.  From global health policy researcher Dr. van de Pas’s introductory talk about the meaning of this on a global scale to global health policy Lecturer Dr. Anuj Kapilashrami’s discussion about growing rights violations and inequalities in Scotland and the UK, the primary message was that this right to health, not only healthcare, is hindered by gaps in other factors and determinants that allow people to live a healthy life.  Global public health Reader Dr. Katherine Smith furthermore suggested that health inequalities have persisted because the policies that have been enacted do not reflect existing research-informed understandings of health inequalities.

 

 

Following the speeches from these PHM members, three members of the community discussed their narratives and experiences in a local context surrounding the social, economic, and political barriers to a right to live healthily.  First discussed were workers’ rights infringements in the Scotland area; second, a man gave a personal testimony on the lack of medical care allocated due his status as a homeless person; and finally, a healthcare worker described the stigma surrounding the HIV positive status of refugees and migrants in the area, living in limbo and aspiring to enjoy the freedoms enjoyed when the right to health is truly applicable—when complex and underlying social, political and economic determinants of health are also taken into the equation.

Perhaps the most stirring part of the talk was the conclusion, when solutions were discussed. By acknowledging the fact that the right to health is embedded in other factors, people can think more widely about what this means.  Compiling more related forms of evidence, educating people about these issues, and taking social action to ensure that certain issues are discussed highlights an increased need in this age of increased social isolation and people living in their socioeconomic “bubbles” for people to come together and move toward something.   It is easy to try to ignore certain realities or attempt to assign blame for unrelated reasons, but exposure to the people and narratives behind these realities and discussion and movement with others is certainly a way forward.  During the question and answer session, audience members commented on their way of spreading awareness, and brought up the importance of getting politicians involved in this campaign to ensure rights being given to all people.

 

My prevailing thought during the presentation was that one doesn’t need to be of a particular side in this issue; the realities presented in the talk transcend the left/right dichotomy.  Perhaps the most important thing is to step back from it all and realize the underlying interconnected factors that make up our own experiences on this planet.  In the end, people ultimately hope to—have the right to—live happy, healthy lives; yet, this is currently not a possibility or reality for many.  We have trouble in the presently disconnected age of connectivity to respect the other, or what is idealized as such at any rate.  Movements like the PHM aim to heal that separation, reminding us that we are all human after all, and challenging people to understand the complexities and particularities that life and living bring.

Neil Quinn, Co-Director of the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde, chairing the great discussions

Neil Quinn, Co-Director of the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde, chairing the great discussions