By Viveka Guzmán, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health
Based on life expectancy, mortality and morbidity rates, we can state without exaggeration that today’s world population has better health than ever before. However, looking between the lines drawn by the statistics, it is evident that this is not true for everyone. Significant inequalities persist between and within countries and this fact has been recognized by academic institutions, governments and international organizations.
The Global Health Exchange (GHE) conference held in Dublin over the past two the days has made an extraordinary attempt of providing the attendants with diverse perspectives of the impact of inequalities on individual and population health. Moreover, moving past the necessary steps of raising awareness and knowledge, many of the participants at the conference called for integrated approaches, action and project implementation. Considering the vast amount of action that is needed, everyone has an important role to play. Wondering what you could do? Here go a few ideas and action examples from the GHE conference discussions.
Although the conference participants come from different backgrounds, with diverse experiences and contrasting perspectives, I recognized overall agreement of the power that lies in policy to achieve change. The kind of positive change we expect to see resulting in leaving no-one behind. Lusungu Dzinkambani, for instance, used her presentation to take us to Malawi, “The Warm Heart of Africa” as she calls it, and give insights into opportunities to achieve Universal Health Care with a small budget, backed up with strong political will.
Meanwhile, Dr Sara Burke took us back to the Irish context with a crash course about Sláintecare, an Irish healthcare plan to break the circle of persistent national health inequalities. According to her, the plan is far from perfect but it does show a political consensus new to the healthcare delivery system in this context. I go home thinking there is a glimmer of hope as politicians are taking the topic of inequality into the policy arena. Nonetheless, politicians were not the only professionals called for action to reduce inequalities.
Researchers and academics were repeatedly acknowledged as significant builders of evidence necessary to support political steps required to achieve equality. In the words of Matt Robinson from the HSE, “We [reseachers] need to make it easier for politicians to make the right decisions.” The pledge expanded to include NGOs, international organisations, and students: ask the right questions, build appropriate partnerships to maximize resources, and give thorough consideration to the diverse stakeholders involved in addressing global health challenges.
Powerful words on the relevance of inclusion were shared by Dr Israel Balogun regarding people with disabilities: “Don’t speak on our behalf, we can be our own voices.” An outstanding echo of ‘nothing for me without me’ that resonated with the inclusion of men in menstrual hygiene projects in Uganda and a youth empowerment project in Malawi presented by Geraldine McGrossan from GOAL.
Not a politician, academic, or researcher? Not a frontline worker or a student? Here goes a call to action in front of all of us. Let’s consider once again the notion that global health action relies on political will whose main actors are, of course, politicians. As Matt Robinson mentioned in his presentation, what do politicians respond to? The voters. That’s us! We need to demonstrate that the needs are here, that we are concerned about equality and universal health care, bicycle lanes and population dynamics, migrant populations, minorities, and much, much more. We need to take the streets. Sometime – literally – with our bikes to claim for safe paths and clean transportation options. It’s about spreading the word outside the global health bubble, because that is global health; it is about everyone and for everyone. So, yes, we are all responsible and capable of doing something. Let’s act on leaving no-one behind!
November 6th, 2018
Viveka is a medical doctor from Mexico with an MSc in Global Health from the University of Gothenburg. She is currently studying a research assistant in Trinity College Dublin. One of her areas of interest in Global Health is Urban Health (urbanization effects on health, health inequalities, community health and how to implement interventions and policies in this context). She is also very interested in communication and education strategies as well as sustainable development.