Profiting from health is anti-humanist
Health as a human right cannot be put off.
From the earliest civilisations to today’s planetary civilisation, healers, scientists and scholars have contributed enormously to reducing the pain of illness and the suffering that results from it, leaving behind a wealth of knowledge that continues to develop.
In 1948, the World Health Assembly proclaimed 7 April as World Health Day, a date chosen to commemorate the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). That year the WHO defined the concept of health in this way: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
In the last century, the Declaration of Alma-Ata (1978) and the Ottawa Charter (1986), established a paradigm shift under the development of Health Promotion; convening the international community around the goal of “health for all by the year 2000”. Five key strategies were proposed: 1) appropriate public health policies; 2) creating healthy environments; 3) strengthening community action; 4) developing personal skills through health education; and 5) reorienting health services.
It was stated that improvements in health must be based on: peace, education, housing, food, living wages, stable ecosystem, social justice and equity. It was stressed that this requires coordinated action by governments, health workers, social and economic sectors, local governments, industry and the media.
Thirty-five years later, these aspirations are still valid and the emphasis is on health empowerment, with the aim of ensuring that patients exercise critical thinking, are highly informed, and have the capacity to make decisions in the management of their own health. The central objectives of the WHO’s campaigns declare the intention to reach every corner of the planet with health. The 2021 celebration invites us to join together in a new campaign to “build a fairer and healthier world”.
But there is a huge gap between aspirations and reality.
The state of science in the multiple branches linked to health has been able for decades to eliminate or minimise the majority of diseases that continue to generate pain, that lead to premature deaths, that prevent us from achieving massively greater longevity than we know today.
The current state of health development needs to be analysed situationally within a larger system whose main protagonists are three central actors of anti-humanism: 1 the centrality of money as a central value, which through the financial system directs the large pharmaceutical industry of private capital whose main interest is profit and no other. 2 the absurd existence of the military-industrial complex, which squanders enormous amounts of material and human resources in the direction of generating more pain and more suffering. 3 a materialistic culture which, from the top down, depredates the natural-social environment, promoting sumptuous consumption, encouraging production with programmed obsolescence and naturalising different forms of violence.
This materialistic culture of the “money god” leads to the hollowing out of the true meaning of science, turning it into a technology for profit in terms of the business of private capital.
At the same time, much of the progress is due to the development of the basic sciences and the specific branches of medicine that finance the national states with contributions from the entire population.
It is true that compared to decades and centuries ago, humanity has made enormous progress in health care, but this is in spite of capitalism and not because of it. Life expectancy has improved and some of the most common causes of death associated with infant and maternal mortality, hygiene and infectious diseases have been reduced.
Despite this, the global health reality shows monstrous inequalities and violence. The available figures of all kinds are staggering, to name but a few.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the leading causes of death in the world. It ranks first among HIV-infected people and among diseases related to antibiotic resistance. In 2018, an estimated 10 million new cases (1.1 million children) and 1.5 million people died of TB in 2018.
More than two million children die each year (almost 8,000 per day) from severe malnutrition, dehydration and diseases that these factors favor (diarrhea, rubella, malaria, TB). Hunger and lack of access to water remain the greatest threat to the health of people in much of the world.
Life expectancy in years per country is another indicator of inequality: Japan (84), Spain (83), Mozambique (60), Central African Republic (54), severe malnutrition and lack of hygiene largely explain the differences.
The US is at the forefront of another food-related health problem: obesity, which affects some 500 million people in rich countries. In poor countries food is scarce, in rich countries the poor eat a lot of poor-quality food (fat, sugar, salt). The gap in life expectancy in the USA between the richest 1% of the population and the poorest 1% is 15 years more for the former.
If we talk about public spending in euros on health per capita per year and per country in 2018, it was estimated at 8,400 euros in the USA, in France 3,300 euros, in Argentina 840 euros, in Colombia 310 euros, in Haiti 7 euros, in Niger 5 euros.
Big private capital is interested neither in definitive cure nor in primary health care, it is interested in making disease chronic, which allows for greater profits.
The current for-profit health system and a large part of the public sector is focused on medical care and is not seen in a holistic way. It does not focus on the prevention of illness, but on care and rehabilitation once the illness is already present.
In our federation of humanist parties, we understand health as a social good, based on a state of well-being and harmony of individuals among themselves, communities and peoples.
Health is a state opposed to the pain and suffering caused by illness. Health is a human and social right that cannot be postponed and cannot be delegated, belongs to State management, and must be decentralized and free of bureaucracy and with direct involvement of the people, the latter being central to the changes. The population can articulate its participation through volunteer bodies involved in planning, execution, monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the health system works for the entire population, the ultimate beneficiaries of the system.
Any human being who lacks optimal conditions and opportunities to express a profound life project that humanises him or her cannot be in the best health conditions.
For us, health is a social-historical process of increasing physical, psychological and environmental well-being, which involves all human beings without distinction.
It is a process because it recognizes different moments in the conquest of better living conditions that make it possible to live longer and better.
It is historical because the image of what is attainable, the knowledge that sustains it and the instruments that are available, are transformed with the temporal accumulation of scientific and technical development.
It is social because it aims to put these advances at the service of communities without exception, understanding that the health of any person is equally important and is a central part of human development. In this sense, we do not accept any kind of discrimination based on economic, social, ethnic, sexual, generational or social status.
Humanists believe in an integral vision of the human being and life. To apply it to medicine, it is necessary to build a new paradigm where the physical, the psychic and the energetic are integrated in the same structure. A change of outlook and practices that will allow us to unify all these fields of research and development in a single form, as parts of the same thing. It is necessary to understand the historical-biological-cultural process that constitutes human life, under a conception that goes beyond the current limited Hegemonic Medical Model. We need the convergence of all basic sciences to build this new model of integral and universal medicine.
Humanists affirm that the complex economic and technological problems of today’s society will be adequately framed for their treatment if we put human and material resources for health and education above all other interests.
The pandemic we are currently experiencing has revealed the degree of violent appropriation by big capital over the development of health systems. It uses the legal tyranny that establishes patents on research that is based on the development of the process of historical accumulation of knowledge that cannot be appropriated by a few. We need to democratise knowledge.
Free and comprehensive health and education, treated equally for all human beings, must replace the present paradigm of wealth and power as a general civilizational orientation. This is the path we propose in order to change the absurd direction that the anti-humanist leaderships are pushing and thus to be able to glimpse the possibility of overcoming the human prehistory in which we live for now.
International Coordination Team – Federation of Humanist Parties