GHF2006 – PS04 – Civil Society: A Key Partner in Access to Health

Session Outline

Parallel session PS04, Wednesday, August 30 2006, 16:00-17:30
Chair(s): David Mc Coy, Co-Managing Editor, Global Health Watch 2005-2006, Department of Public Health, University College, London, UK, Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, Switzerland
The Patient's Role in Influencing Access to Health
Jo Harkness, Policy & External Affairs Director, International Alliance of Patients? Organizations, London, UK  
People's Health in People's Hands PHM: A Global Actor for Change
Hani Serag, Global Secretariat Coordinator, People?s Health Movement (PHM), Cairo, Egypt
The Global Health Watch: Mobilizing the Global Public Health Community Around the Structural Determinants of Health
David Mc Coy, Co-Managing Editor, Global Health Watch 2005-2006, Department of Public Health, University College, London, UK 

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Jocelyn Poirier (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Dr Beat Stoll (UNIGE), Ann Tachie-Menson (ICVolunteers)

Image: Viola Krebs,

To achieve global access to health care requires the participation of a range of actors including patients, well-organized NGOs and governments that are held accountable. This specific symposium covered a range of issues that are critical to providing access to health for all, including civil and social issues and the role, vision and improvements provided by the People's Health Movement (PHM) and the Global Health Watch (GHW).

The chairman, Mr. B. Eshaya-Chauvin opened the symposium and the key-note speech was by Mrs. Jo Harkness, Director of External Affairs at the International Alliance of Patient Organizations (IAPO).

Mrs. Harkness explained the role of the IAPO, which is to ensure that the voice of patients is heard when health policies are defined. Their mission is to ensure that the patient remains the focus in health care, rather than focusing on technology, hospitals, health care personnel or diseases. Currently the focus is on diseases, whereas the real focus should be on patients since only they can communicate what they require. Information is critical and must circulate. Surveys show that the main concerns (access to timely treatments, strong relationships between patients and care givers and perceptions of health care amongst patients and patient's organizations) are the same regardless of the region where the patient comes from.

Subsequently, Mr. Hani Serag of the People's Health Movement (PHM) presented his organization, including its role and the challenges it faces. According to PHM, the drug stakeholders and pharmaceutical companies have no real interest in achieving health for all. A growing disparity between the rich and the poor and between the more developed and less developed countries can be clearly observed. The PHM claims that, in order to give advantages to pharmaceutical companies, western governments and the World Health Organization (WHO) are constantly putting pressure on poorer countries to adopt legislation that restricts access to drugs, while being beneficial to drug companies. According to the PHM, many countries have actually adopted such legislation.  As a result, drug companies made 62 billion USD in profit last year. They oppose this situation and propose a vision of equity, ecologically-sustainable development and peace. The PHM recently established an International People's Health University.

The final presentation was given by Mr. Dave McCoy from Global Health Watch (GHW) and looked specifically at how to mobilize the global public health community around the basic issues of health. Mr. McCoy emphasized the fact that the health care crisis is not driven by diseases, but by governments. Resources are available but do not reach those who need them most. This has resulted, for example, in a reduction in life expectancy in some countries, especially on the African continent. Even though it has been demonstrated that it takes only 30 USD per capita on a yearly basis to provide adequate health care to all, too many countries struggle to make ends meet. In a country like Ethiopia, even 100% of its GDP would not cover all their health care needs. In short, the biggest global 'epidemic' is poverty. At the same time, tax evasion allowed the most fortunate to save 350 billion USD last year. The system in which we live facilitates the accumulation of wealth and corruption to the detriment of more important issues such as health care. Even more worrying is that no action seems to be taken. The global health crisis is therefore one of misdistribution of wealth. The role of GHW is to report on the global health crisis and to hold accountable those who are responsible for improving health (governments, corporations, international health agencies). Since access to health affects everyone, it is not just an individual government, but a global problem; hence the international health system needs to be readjusted. Mr. McCoy's final remarks were addressed to the WHO, which needs to increase its influence and to improve its organization so that it will be able to face the great challenges of today and in the future.

A quote from Rudolph Virchow, given by Mr. McCoy during his presentation, summarizes well the issues discussed during this symposium: "Politics is nothing more than medication on a larger scale". The ones affected most by the access to health care, the patients themselves, need to have their voice heard, and this will not happen unless governments focus their main interests towards the people rather than profit driven companies and NGOs involved in health care can work independently, in a competent manner, with the sole objective of making sure that decent health care is provided to the ones who most need it".

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