Category Archives: Social Movements

Cost effectiveness, rights, and universal health coverage

As I’ve thought, read, and worked more on the social movement for the right to health, one inevitable tension that comes up is the aspiration for the highest attainable standard of health for all and the choices inherent in allocating scarce resources to the delivery of health care services. The tension between the right to health for all and the need to make choices about what to do (and what not to do) has led to the invention and widespread use of “cost-effectiveness analysis” to aid policy-makers in making these difficult choices. I have been meaning to read the book “Epic Measures“, about Chris Murray, but I know that it documents his work, with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to invent and codify analytic tools such as the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) and the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QUALY) used in their efforts to quantify how, and of what, people die from around the world. This research has formed the basis of the Global Burden of Disease study, whose goal is to comprehensively measure epidemiological levels and trends worldwide.

These tools have been very useful to help “rationalize” budgets and allocate resources to ensure that needs are best met with the limited resources available. But, scholars, activists, and health care practitioners have routinely critiqued the blunt force use and uncritical application of narrowly defined cost effectiveness analysis to prescribe policy solutions challenges facing health care challenges, especially in settings of poverty. The challenge is that often these technocratic tools tend to scrub these policy decisions of their inherent political basis and can lead to deeply problematic policy decisions that apply a double (lower) standard to those living in poverty.

Historically, one of the most important examples what the cost-effectiveness analysis of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the early 2000’s: at nearly $10,000 per person per year, it was considered not cost-effective (and even unethical because of the cost) to provide access to ART to the majority of HIV positive people living in poor countries. Paul Farmer has a great analysis of this history in his 2013 NEJM Shattuck Lecture, showing the malleability of both cost and effectiveness in its narrow application to the question of whether or not to provide ART to poor communities. The cost of HIV meds dropped from $10K per person per year to less than $200. The effectiveness of building community-based programs through community health worker networks and social accompaniment (as demonstrated by the HIV Equity Initiative) could be proven. If both cost and effectiveness can change so rapidly, what is the epistemological basis for dogmatic deployment of cost-effectiveness analysis?

Eric Friedman and Larry Gostin of the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown Law School have a good blog post about reconciling cost-effectiveness in a rights-based approach to universal health coverage policy change.

“A traditional approach to answering this question is to focus on cost-effectiveness. Start with a given resource envelope. Then choose the set of health interventions that will buy the most health for the population. Under this approach, health is typically measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). Run the numbers – the cost of different interventions, the expected benefits in DALYs – and include the most cost-effective interventions within the funds available. There is your universal health coverage benefit package.

A human rights approach differs dramatically. The first difference is the question we ask. It is no longer a straightforward matter of determining how to get the greatest health gain for the dollar based on straightforward formulas. “Coverage of what?” is only one question of many. The questions extend to the very process of answering this question, and include such questions as how are the benefits distributed across the population, how health systems can deliver on the chosen priorities, what are the resources available, and more.”

Friedman and Gostin expand upon how a rights-based approach could expand up and reconcile the use of cost-effectiveness tools, delineating the need for the approach to move beyond discrete interventions,  expand the resource envelope, acknowledge core obligations and a robust standard for all, move towards progressive realization, commit to equity and nondiscrimination, valuing local / people’s perspectives, and being accountable to those perspectives.

They conclude with a nod to the need for a robust social movement to ensure a rights-based approach to UHC and the potential utility of a Framework Convention on Global Health.

Social movements will determine whether the commitment to universal health coverage catalyzes incremental progress or a revolution in health, achieving a little more health for a few more people or, decades after the Declaration of Alma-Ata (1978), finally brings health for all. Committing to universal health coverage as a means towards the right to health is one of the surest steps we can take towards true transformation.

With this importance of the right to health, we must use the right to health platforms that we now have, even as we build upon them to construct even stronger ones – such as a new global treaty, a Framework Convention on Global Health, to reinforce the right to health, to clarify its standards, to provide for the pathways to towards this transformation – and in so doing, to further unleash the awesome power of human beings who will not be content until they succeed in claiming their rights.

Global health can never be boiled down to a technical math problem in which datasets deliver simple solutions. Advancing equity in global health is a challenge of reconciliation between what matters to people and how to allocate the resources within society to deliver those goods. It is fundamentally a matter of politics. Cost effectiveness is a valuable tool only insofar as it sharpens the political problems we face and helps us navigate these political challenges towards a more equitable allocation of health resources.

Koch bros and the neoliberal movement, cont.

Charles Koch

Charles Koch

Bill McKibbin has a great review of Jane Mayer’s new book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” in the New York Review of Books. I really want to read the full book, especially since I’ve been thinking more and more about the roots of neoliberalism and the global health equity movement. But, the review is great and I learned a lot from it.

Specifically, I didn’t know the deep familial roots of the Koch brother’s business, political, and economic ideology.

“The origin story of the Koch brothers, however, is like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel, connected to most of the darkest forces of the twentieth century. Their father, Fred Koch, had invented an improved process for refining crude oil into gasoline. The Russians sought his expertise as they set up their own refineries after the Bolshevik Revolution—at first he said he didn’t want to work for Communists, but since they were willing to pay in advance he overcame his scruples and helped Stalin meet his first five-year plan by building fifteen refineries and then advising on a hundred more, across the Soviet Union.”

Next, he turned to another autocrat with busy expansion plans, Adolf Hitler, traveling frequently to Germany where he “provided the engineering plans and began overseeing the construction of a massive oil refinery owned by a company on the Elbe River in Hamburg.” It turned into a crucial part of the Reich’s military might, “one of the few refineries in Germany” that could produce “the high-octane gasoline needed to fuel fighter planes.” And it turned the elder Koch into an admirer of the regime, who as late as 1938 was writing in a letter to a friend that “I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard.” Comparing the scenes he saw in Hamburg to FDR’s New Deal, he said it gave him hope that “perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.”

Fred met his wife at a polo match in 1932, when his “work for Stalin had put him well on his way to becoming exceedingly wealthy.” They built a Gothic-style stone mansion on the outskirts of Wichita, with stables, a kennel for hunting dogs, and the other paraphernalia required for pretend gentry, and in the first eight years of their marriage they had four sons: Frederick, Charles, and a pair of twins, David and William. The first two were raised by a German governess who “enforced a rigid toilet-training regimen requiring the boys to produce morning bowel movements precisely on schedule or be force-fed castor oil and subjected to enemas.” Luckily for the twins, she left for home when they were born, apparently because “she was so overcome with joy when Hitler invaded France she felt she had to go back to the fatherland in order to join the führer in celebration.”

Of those four sons, Charles became the dominant force, and one of the twins—David—his close colleague. Eventually, by Mayer’s account, they essentially blackmailed the eldest brother, Frederick, out of his share of the family business by threatening to tell their father that he was gay. Bill, too, later parted ways with his brothers, parlaying his share of the inheritance into a lucrative oil business and then using the proceeds to, among other things, fund opposition to wind energy off Cape Cod. But Charles was always the crucial Koch. His father, despite or because of the original source of his fortune, became a fervent anti-Communist and one of the eleven founding members of the John Birch Society. One of the figures in its orbit, Robert LeFevre, became Charles’s original guru, opening a “Freedom School” in Colorado Springs in 1957, where he preached not just the Birchers’ anticommunism but also an adamant opposition to America’s government.”

Thinking back to the piece by Alex Hertel-Fernandez and Theda Skocpol and their analysis of how the Koch brothers’ network of think tanks, grassroots groups, philanthropy networks, etc have formed some kind of a black hole, sucking the Republican party to the radical right, it is easy to see how these efforts have shaped the insane political climate we see today.

And, now that the Koch brothers are gaining public notoriety (mostly negative), they have started an aggressive “rebranding campaign” targeted at reclaiming the “middle third” of voters who are neither conservative or liberal.

“Perhaps realizing that forty years of heavy spending had failed to make their ideas popular (though often successful nonetheless), the Kochs, Mayer reports, are undergoing a branding makeover, launching a PR campaign designed to appeal to the “middle third” of voters who are neither conservative or liberal. The effort to produce a “positive vision” resulted in, among other things, a “Well-Being Forum” sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute in Washington, where the founder quoted from Martin Luther King Jr. The most substantive part of this image-building has been a drive for criminal justice reform, in partnership with many progressive and minority leaders concerned about mass incarceration who advocate reform of sentencing. But late last fall the coalition began to falter, with many complaining that the Kochs were pushing changes to the criminal code that would make it even harder to prosecute corporate crimes—the very crimes that, as Mayer shows, most of the biggest players in their network have regularly engaged in.”


NGOs: In the service of imperialism?

Just re-stumbled upon an oldie but a goodie paper, “NGOs: In the service of imperialism,” that is purposefully provocative about the purpose and function of NGOs in the global development and economic landscape. James Petras is a somewhat eccentric Marxist and this paper is a scathing critique of NGO action, even purportedly “rights based,” liberal NGOs working to “mobilize civil society” in the name of democracy and rights.

Similar to Monika Krause’s view of “the good project” 1 and the commodification of projects and beneficiaries, Petras see’s NGOs as serving the function of preventing or co-opting true, locally-driven movements to apply political pressure to governments and the international actors to protect rights.

“NGOs emphasize projects not movements; they “mobilize” people to produce at the margins not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth; they focus on the technical financial assistance aspects of projects not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people.”

He goes on:

“The formal claims used by NGO directors to justify their position  — that they
fight poverty, inequality, etc. are self-serving and specious. There is a direct relation between the growth of NGOs and the decline of living standards: the proliferation of NGOs has not reduced structural unemployment, massive displacements of peasants, nor provided liveable wage levels for the growing army of informal workers. What NGOs have done, is provided a thin stratum of professionals with income in hard currency to escape the ravages of the neo-liberal economy that affects their country, people and to climb in the existing social class structure.

“By talking about “civil society” NGOers obscure the profound class divisions, class exploitation and class struggle that polarizes contemporary “civil society.” While analytically useless and obfuscating, the concept, “civil society” facilitates NGO collaboration with capi- talist interests that finance their institutes and allows them to orient their projects and followers into subordinate relations with the big business interests that direct the rico- liberal economies… In addition, not infrequently the NGOers’ civil society rhetoric is a ploy to attack comprehensive public programs and state institutions delivering social services. The NGOers side with big business’ “anti-statist” rhetoric (one in the name of “civil society” the other in the name of the “market”) to reallocate state resources. The capitalists’ “anti-Statism” is used to increase public funds to subsidize exports and financial bailouts, the NGOers try to grab a junior share via “subcontracts” to deliver inferior services to fewer recipients.”

I tend to agree with him about the structure of power and forces that shape the NGO terrain and ultimately drive the practice of NGO managers and the programs they develop. I think (as I’ve written) that these forces are often, if not always, antagonistic to the political process necessary to demanding the protection of rights, especially the right to health. Private NGOs seem to lessen the pressure on the public sector to provide fundamental social services (such as education and health care) and can function as a tool of privatization. Linking back to the comments by Dr. Salmaan Keshavjee about his experience with developing a revolving drug fund Kazakhstan with the Aga Khan Foundation, its easy to see how NGOs can function “transplantation device” for neoliberal, “free market” ideas and the privatization of fundamental social services.

At the end of this piece, Petras calls for a more robust “theory of NGOs.” I think there is a major opportunity to build off Bourdieu, McAdam, and Krause to develop better theoretical constructs and case study examples to analyze the expansion of transnational nongovernmental organizations and the ways they alter the local political, economic, and cultural landscape in poor and marginalized communities around the world. It seems clear that the “field” of international development has set up the game that NGOs play, the rules of which are dominated by large-scale capital. This is the game of the construction of commodified “good projects” that then get sold to the international financiers on an “open market.

The question for me is: what’s to be done?

Though I’m sure you can level all sorts of critiques at Partners In Health as a fairly large transnational NGO, I do believe there is something unique and special about the way that we have tried to institutionalize a practice of “accompaniment.” I believe that PIH has a stated and deeply held set of values, internal logics, and defined purpose that in many ways runs perpendicular to the animating logics of the “Bourdieusian” field of international development. PIH’s core purpose is to work alongside ministries of health and marginalized communities to build the capacities to develop high-quality health care delivery systems that can be scaled into national systems of universal health coverage. We seek to accompany governments in the process of helping them meet the obligations of protecting the rights of their citizens, of which we consider health to be foundational.

I have seen how the field-defining “good project” drives the flow of capital through financing mechanisms (bilateral foreign aid, in particular), and makes PIH’s core mission (and a more broadly important function in the world if we want to advance rights-based work) very difficult to finance. At least, it makes it nearly impossible for an organization attempting to support governments in the task of being effective in their work to deliver packages of needed services (thus, protecting rights) at scale to gain access to the capital necessary to do this work effectively.

Questions we need to keep working on:

  • What type of social movement or political project is necessary to sufficiently disrupt and reorient the field of international development such that it can be less organized towards the narrow construction of tightly defined projects and more towards the goal of enabling governments to be effective in protecting rights?
  • What would it take to reform the large-scale financing mechanisms that reflexively define “the good project” and are reinforced by this definition?
  • Could we imagine the creation of new financing mechanisms that would direct capital towards the idea of a “third sector organization” type that we might call an “accompaniment” organization? An accompaniment organization could be thought of as one that would be focused on the specific work of embedding in and enabling a public sector (government ministry) to be effective in its work to protect social/economic rights of citizens (health in particular, or at least for us).
  1.  Krause, Monika. The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. Print.

‘A Theory of Fields’ and the right to health movement

a theory of fieldsI think that Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital, and habitus are very important to be able to understand the history and future of the movement for global health equity, as I’ve written about here.  The challenge I was trying to address in that piece was one of insurgent action and the dynamics of change within fields. Bourdieu’s account of fields of social action biases towards stasis — action is inhibited, or at least structured by the cumulative embodiment of history as habitus.

How does social change happen? This is something that Bourdieu is relatively quiet on in his work and is where McAdam and Fligstein have tried to build on the tradition of “field-based” social theory to account for social change in “meso-level social orders.” The result is their 2012 book, “A Theory of Fields” (TOF).

Doug McAdam is a scholar that I’ve drawn inspiration from for at least the last five years and is someone who has loomed large over the sociology of social movements for decades. His political process model serves as a way to conceptualize and study social movement emergence, growth, and decline is a standard for social movement sociology. He started his professional dialogue with Neil Fligstein, an organizational and political sociologist, decades ago and together they have been trying to understand why so many social scientists of different methodological and theoretical angles have come to a similar set of concepts and ways of interpreting social action. As they put it in the preface for TOF:

“We believe the reason that all of these scholars across so many disciplines, subfields, and methodological and theoretical persuasions have come to find one another is because we have all inadvertently discerned a set of foundational truths about social life. The problem of mesolevel social order and the creation of strategic action fields is the central problem of a social science interested in how people engage in collective action, how they construct the opportunity to do so, the skills they bring to the enterprise, how they sometimes succeed, and if they do succeed, how they seek to stabilize and maintain the resulting order. These issues are central to an understanding of how people make political change, build a new product to take to market, challenge existing laws by lobbying governments, as well as how actors maintain a stable hierarchical order in popular music, haute cuisine, or any other cultural field. It is this deep sociological problem that is at the core of what we are writing about. As such, we are happy to acknowledge our interest in and relation to the wide and voluminous literature that has developed on these topics in recent years. We have learned from these various literatures, borrowed from them, and tried to contribute to them. We have returned to this manuscript in order to clarify some of the literatures’ critical insights and to finally consolidate and elaborate the various strands of our own thinking.” 1

It’s kind of amazing to just be stumbling upon this book, especially after having written “Opportunities for research and practice in the social movement for the right to health” which was grappling with this same topic through the lens of global health. It’s also thrilling because I think that it provides an useful theoretical framework to study and actually engage in the social movement building work for the right to health; work that does, in fact, link ideas the ground Bourdieu (field, capital, habitus), McAdam (political process model), and Ganz (leadership and community organizing practice in social movements).

McAdam and Fligstein’s theory of fields rests on three clusters of ideas:

  1. Strategic action fields (SAFs): Meso-level social orders which serve as the basic structural building block of modern political / organizational life in the economy and civil society. This theoretical treatment allows sociologists to study stability and change dynamics at the field-level a la Bourdieu / Wacquant.2
  2. Embeddedness of fields: Fields are embedded within a broader environment of countless other strategic action fields and states (which themselves complex SAFs). Crises and shocks in proximate SAFs are often what create the space and opportunity for change within the SAF under study. SAFs can also be envisioned as if “Russian stacking dolls”: for instance the American economy could be broken down into specific industries, those industries into specific firms, those firms into regional offices / departments / functional units, and those departments into specific teams. Each of these SAF contain actors who make decisions about what to do in relationship to the other actors in the field.
  3. Social skill: Finally, M+F’s theory rests on the a microfoundation of an “existential function of the social.” Explaining social action within fields relies on a complex mix of material concerns (power, resources, constraints, opportunities) and also “existential” considerations: human emotions, meaning making, belonging, relationships. By understanding the essentially existential nature of human existence, M+F introduce the concept of “social skill” and “skilled social actors” who know how to bring people together, form relationships, shape meaning making of collective experience, and enable people to work together for shared social aims. Skilled social actors are necessary to create, maintain, and transform strategic action fields. “Put another way, the concept of social skill highlights the way in which individuals or collective actors possess a highly developed cognitive capacity for reading people and environments, framing lines of action, and mobilizing people in the service of broader conceptions of the world and of themselves.” 3

Overall, I think that this approach has much to offer students of institutions and change within global health. One can imagine the field of global health and international development as a somewhat distinct group of collective actors (NGOs, MOHs, foundations, financing organizations) all operating with a set of governing logics that are to some degree imposed by those dominant within the field of strategic action (aka, the financiers; think Gates, USAID, DFID, etc). More often than not, the logics that are imposed are rooted implicitly or explicitly in neoliberalism. This drives the logic of production of  “the good project” by international NGOs as described by Monika Krause. International NGOs, at the mercy of international financing bodies, must conform their work to producing short term, often vertically oriented global health programs that serve relatively easy to serve populations, outside of the public sector, in order to produce statistically significant outcomes / impact in order to appeal to donors’ grant evaluations and requirements.

This is how neoliberal logic is reproduced within well-meaning NGOs4 that have goals to advance human rights. More work should be done to extend Krause’s work more specifically from international development NGOs to more specifically global health organizations.

Finally, and this is the work that I hope to be able to do formally in graduate school, I believe there is a huge opportunity to study and understand how rights-based delivery organizations (PIH, Last Mile Health, Project Muso, Possible, etc) are making an insurgent response in the face of these orthogonal logics. How do they keep themselves from adopting the dominant logic and conforming with the resource and power flows within the field? What type of collective action, skilled social actors, meaning making processes, social movement organizing activities enable these organizations to insulate themselves from the broader field? How might these organizations continue to invent new modes of collective action that could actually alter the rules of the game and enable resources to flow in ways that support the public sector’s capacity to protect rights of citizens?

  1.  Fligstein, Neil; McAdam, Doug (2012-04-16). A Theory of Fields . Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2.  Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loi Wacquant. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 36-46.
  3.  Fligstein 2001a; Jasper 2004, 2006; Snow and Benford 1988; Snow, et al. 1986). Fligstein, Neil; McAdam, Doug (2012-04-16). A Theory of Fields (p. 17). Oxford University Press.
  4.  Keshavjee, Salmaan. Blind Spot: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Global Health. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

CH188: Framework Convention on Global Health and its historical roots

This past Thursday, we had the third session for CH188: The Right to Health: Problems, Perspectives, and Progress and we focused on 1) readings that laid out the foundational texts that undergird the right to health (the Constitution of the WHO, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, etc.), 2) we heard from guest lecturer Eric Friedman, JD who discussed the current work to more formally codify the right to health through the Framework Convention for Global Health (more here, too), and 3) we began a discussion about the ethical reasoning that underpins all of global health thinking and work and the notion of the right to health. It was a busy session and probably a bit too much to try to cover in a three hour seminar, but we powered through and I think it will provide, once again, a useful foundation as we begin to dive into some of the problems that delay our progress towards the right to health.

Eric Friedman skyped with CH188 and shared his view of the opportunity for renewed global governance for the right to health.

Eric Friedman skyped with CH188 and shared his view of the opportunity for renewed global governance for the right to health.

Linking to the last session’s discussion of the history of the global health project, we discussed the historically-rooted documents that to some extent define and provide the structure for arguments and action for the right to health. A couple things stand out to me upon re-reading these documents. First, it’s pretty clear from an international governance that a right to the “highest attainable standard of health” is to be protected across the board. The right to health exists. Second, its important to understand the the historical, cultural, and geopolitical context in which these documents were created. Finally, understanding that history, and the ethical roots of the documents could give us insights for ways to move forward collective work to enable their wider adoption and greater effectiveness.

The Right to Health in International Law

Summary of the right to health through the lens of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. 1

What’s lacking is 1) accountability to these goals and mechanisms of holding individual states accountable for violations of protection for the right to health, 2) a commitment to progressive financing mechanisms to help poor countries move forwards progressive realization, and 3) the grassroots movement of people who acknowledge their right to health and who are organized enough to demand that right through their state actors and through broader international action.

I just finished reading Nitsan Chorev’s fantastic analysis of the World Health Organization2  and it’s strategic transformation during two distinct historical periods: the 1970s and 1980s, and the  1990’s and 2000’s. Her analysis, taken with Salmaan Keshavjee’s historical and ethnographic treatment of neoliberalism, construct a useful lens through which to see the changing power of human rights documents and language. Specifically, she looks at how the the WHO adapts strategically to exogenous pressures from states, private actors, and the changing geopolitical / and economic structures.

The 1970s-80s were largely shaped by the political power of the G77 — the block of the poorest countries in the world, many newly independent from their colonizers — and their ability to utilize the one-country, one-vote procedural process within the WHO to exert significant political power towards expansion of primary care and the push (led by Halfdan Mahler) of “health for all by the year 2000.” It was this balance of power within the WHO that allowed the primary care and health for all movements to gain traction and lead to the meeting at Alma Ata. It was during this period that many of the international human rights documents were drafted and when the right to health as an international legal principle gained the most ground.

But, the progressive political block of the G77 during the 1970s and 80s provoked a significant backlash from the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, whose action was shaped largely along the lines of the Cold War. As Keshavjee discussed, elite economists in the US and elsewhere were terrified about the potential for a re-emergence of totalitarianism and saw the expansion of Communism and Socialism throughout the G77 as a major threat to liberalism, liberty, and freedom. Hence, the rise of dogmatic neoliberal logic.

The political and financing environment of the 1990s and 00s for the WHO were very different. Understanding that the U.S. and the U.K. could apply other pressure than votes, they began withholding regularly scheduled dues and fees payments to the WHO. They gradually made more and more of the WHO budget focused on discretionary or dedicated budget line items, rather than general expenses. Additionally, the Gates Foundation and other large private philanthropies took a larger role in financing global health including funding the WHO. This precarious and narrow funding meant that the WHO was highly vulnerable to the pressures of states and organizations deeply entrenched in neoliberal logic. The WHO, which had lost stature due to the failure of malaria eradication efforts in the 1960s, had to adapt or grow increasingly marginalized in the global governance of health.

The WHO strategically adapted by transforming neoliberal logic to (to some extent) serve their purposes. Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Secretary-General of the WHO, sought to enlist economists in the effort to demonstrate how targeted, “cost effective” investments made in the health sector could be powerful drivers of economic growth for low and middle income countries. Cost effectiveness became a way of “rationalizing” spending on health services for the poor and created a technical framework by which the WHO could continue to serve as a powerful technical expert to countries around the world, thus staying relevant.

“The prominent role of the World Health Assembly, and therefore of member states, in the process of decision making has secured the dominance of geopolitical logic in the global health agenda. Especially in the first few decades of the WHO’s history, the Cold War division between East and West directly shaped international health priorities (Litsios 1997, Manela 2010). Following decolonization, the World Health Organization, along with the rest of the UN system, was greatly affected by the demands of the newly independent countries of the Global South for a New International Economic Order. In the mid-1980s, in turn, the NIEO logic was replaced with a U.S.-led neoliberal agenda, best expressed in what has become known as the “Washington Consensus” (Williamson 1990). For UN specialized agencies, including the WHO, each period was characterized by the emergence of a distinct global ideational regime and by exogenous pressures to follow that regime. An overview of the policies formulated by the WHO staff and leadership and adopted by the executive and the assembly illustrates, however, that these policies did not faithfully echo the call for a New International Order in the 1970s nor the neoliberal principles of the 1990s.”

  • Chorev, Nitsan (2012-05-01). The World Health Organization between North and South (p. 5). Cornell University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) is a modern attempt to once again move the balance of power towards the right to health. Eric Friedman gave a great presentation outlining the growing movement towards a convention, modeled after the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

See his slides here.

In hist view, the FCGH couple help address key gaps in financing, work to curb the power of non-health sectors, address problems with health worker migration and “brain drain”, and address health disparities within countries. It could accomplish this by leveraging the power of law (powerful norms, facilitation of collective action, and binding responsibilities to support local advocacy), taking advantage of a globalized world in which nation-states should not be sole unit of analysis, and learning from past experience (FCGTC).

There is much, much more to say on the topic of a Framework Convention for Global Health, but suffice it to say, there is stark opposition to such an idea. See the piece from the Health and Human Rights Journal on “the dark side of the FCGH.” I’m hoping to do another post soon diving in to the debate and potential future of global governance in global health.

Reading and Class Notes:

Grodin et al Chapter 2:
  • Direct human rights abuses continue: Abu-Ghraib, botched executions, torture, etc.
  • Subtle human rights abuses like lack of health systems, discrimination, etc
  • Brief history:
    • Nuremberg Trials — since then interest in health and human rights have grown.
    • Since HIV in the 1980s, health / human rights have had parallel but distinct tracks.
    • Jonathan Mann and the HIV treatment movement was the first global effort to link health and human rights explicitly.
    • Since the AIDS treatment movement, almost all development agencies and UN programs must acknowledge rights in their health work. Even some governments are building legislation / incorporating into their constitutions.
      • Yet, lots of work yet to do and many gaps to be filled.
    • WTHO constitution: one of the best sources of “the right to health.”
  • The idea of health as a human right as a subject is fairly new.
  • Advocacy and bearing witness:
    • Complacency of governments in their response to HIV: activists demanded and pushed for action. Result was dramatically reduced cost of HIV medications
    • A key dilemma: sustainable action, should it be connected to documentation and denouncements of human rights violations? How would that limit the ability to deliver the services that people need / jeopardize the safety of their workers?
  • Rights in Delivery of Care and Programming:
    • Examining laws and policies under which programs are being run
    • Systematically integrating core human rights principles such as participation
    • Focusing on key elements of the right to health.
  • Concerns for the future:
    • Government roles / responsibilities are increasingly being relegated to non-state actors (NGOs corporations, etc): accountability poorly defined inadequate monitoring.
    • Ways forward:
      • need to educate staff and engage them in conversations about right to health.
Lecture Notes:
–> Send class information on the TPP.
Consequentialist / Nonconsequentialist Logitcs + Ethics
  • Rightness / wrongness based on the consequences / outcomes of actions
    • Consequentialist: Utilitarianism is a function of this: action to take is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The end is more important than the means.
    • Nonconsequentialist: rightness / wrongness are due to the content of the actions. The means matter more than the ends. Actions can be right or wrong. Libertarianism, contractarianism: No policy that causes compensated harm is allowed.
  • FCGH: what are the values that are underlying this? What are the values and ethics?
    • What constraints will it place on non-state actors?
    • What effects will it have on the SDGs? 17 SDGs
  • Objective <–> Subjective
  • Radical Change <–> Status Quo
  2.  The World Health Organization Between North and South. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (

Public intellectuals and social movements

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting piece on public intellectuals1 and their role in “creating new publics” — groups that share a common interest, action, language, and purpose.

“The reason for this has less do with the elitism of the intellectual — mine is no brief for an avant garde or philosopher king — than with the existence, really, the nonexistence, of the public. Publics, as John Dewey argued, never simply exist; they are always created. Created out of groups of people who are made and mangled by the actions of other people. Capital acts upon labor, subjugating men and women at work, making them miserable at home. Those workers are not yet a public. But when someone says — someone writes — “Workers of the world, unite!,” they become a public that is willing and able to act upon its shared situation. It is in the writing of such words, the naming of such names — “Workers of the world” or “We, the People,” even “The Problem That Has No Name” — that a public is summoned into being. In the act of writing for a public, intellectuals create the public for which they write.” 2

This made me think about the work that has gone into forming the emerging discipline of global health equity and the “movement for the right to health” which is distinct from and actually in conflict with the broader field of global health and international development. In so many ways, the broader field of global health and international development has its roots in a history dominated by neoliberal economic dogma and powerful institutions that have shaped policies all the way down to local community clinics in poor and remote corners of the globe. How does an organization with a set of values and purpose that is perpendicular to the values of the broader field of power in which it is embedded continue to exist? How can it create a small pocket of space in the face of crushing pressure? A small platform on which to stand when powerful forces push in the opposite direction?

The notion of a public intellectual summoning a new language and therefor a new public into existence is crucial, I think, to understanding the nature of the right to health movement. Halfdan Mahler conjured “Health for All by the Year 2000”, Jim Kim called for “3×5”, or 3 million people on HIV treatment by the end of 2005, Larry Kramer and ACT UP mobilized powerful language and visual demonstration to politicize science and policy making around HIV in the U.S. Each confronted an unjust status quo, articulated a new vision for a possible future, and sought to mobilize the intellectual, political, cultural, and institutional capital in service of this alternative future.

“That’s also how public intellectuals work. By virtue of the demands they make upon the reader, they force a reckoning. They summon a public into being — if nothing else a public conjured out of opposition to their writing. Democratic publics are always formed in opposition and conflict: “to form itself,” wrote Dewey, “the public has to break existing political forms.” So are reading publics. Sometimes they are formed in opposition to the targets identified by the writer: Think of the readers of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Sometimes they are formed in opposition to the writer: Think of the readers of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. Regardless of the fallout, the public intellectual forces a question, establishes a divide, and demands that her readers orient themselves around that divide.” 3

Few public intellectuals have created a broader organizational and intellectual foundation, new technical and moral language, than Paul Farmer. Chapter 5 of Pathologies of Power is a classic example of Farmer laying out an ethical, moral, political vision for the foundation of a rights-based global health agenda and forcing a choice.

“At the same time, the flabby moral relativism of our times would have us believe that we may now choose from a broad menu of approaches to delivering effective health care services to the poor. This is simply not true. Whether you are sitting in a clinic in rural Haiti, and thus a witness to stupid deaths from infection, or sitting in an emergency room in a U.S. city, and thus the provider of first resort for forty million uninsured, you must acknowledge that the commodification of medicine invariably punishes the vulnerable.” 4

Connecting back to social theory and social movements, it seems clear that Bourdieu, McAdam, Fligstein, and others would see this brand of public intellectual as necessary but not sufficient for the initiation and sustaining of contested social movements. Whether viewing these individuals as “skilled social actors” (field theory) 5, progenitors of “cognitive liberation” (political process) 6, or the collective intellectual striving for a “scholarship with commitment” 7 and working to accrue forms of symbolic/cultural/scientific capital sufficient to alter the field, social movements need individuals willing to break with dominant logic and language, articulate an alternative, and then work to mobilize a new public to organize for collective action.

  1.  Robin, Corey. “How Intellectuals Create a Public.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
  2.  Ibid.
  3.  Ibid.
  4.  Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: U of California, 2003. Print.
  5.  Fligstein, Neil, and Doug Mcadam. “Toward a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields*.” Sociological Theory 29.1 (2011): 1-26. Web.
  6.  McAdam, Doug. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency: 1930-1970. Chicago ; London: U of Chicago, 1982. Print.
  7.  Bourdieu, Pierre. “A Scholarship with Committment.” Revueagone Agone 23 (2000): 205-11. Web.

Opportunities for research and practice in the social movement for the right to health

The right to health is a contested idea.[i],[ii] Increasingly, people agree that individuals have the right to be free from disproportionate risk of illness and early death.[iii] But, there are wide disagreements about what limits ought to be set around a right to health,[iv],[v] the practical mechanisms to protect the right to health,[vi],[vii],[viii] and what type of social and political strategies should be advanced to dismantle the historically, socially, and politically constructed barriers that limit our progress.[ix],[x],[xi],[xii],[xiii],[xiv] Because the right to health is at the center of a political contest that is historically and socially constructed, we need better theory about the social construction of the field of practice of global health. We also need a deeper understanding of the nature of social movements as sources of reform efforts and the practical organizational models that can grow such movements. This paper seeks to explore a research and organizing agenda that could better elucidate the social processes that underpin social movements and point toward more robust strategies to strengthen the right to health movement. This research and practice agenda should be “historically deep and geographically broad”[xv] and connect a critical study of the sociology of social movements,[xvi],[xvii] organizational theory,[xviii] and the field of practice of international development and global health.[xix],[xx],[xxi]

Social theory is used to contextualize and interpret the complex situations that characterize global health.[xxii],[xxiii] I will briefly share the work of three scholars that are rarely cited by global health practitioners but whose ideas provide a useful toolkit in studying and advancing the social movement for the right to health. I argue that there is a significant opportunity to deploy the social theory of Pierre Bourdieu in critical study of the field of practice of international development and global health, Doug McAdam’s political process model as a way to describe the emergence and growth of social movements, and Marshall Ganz’ community organizing and leadership pedagogy. I will then use these tools to provide a brief analysis of the current moment in the right to health movement and delineate some potential opportunities to strategize about future mobilization. I will also share early experiences in developing a grassroots community organizing strategy through the global health and social justice organization, Partners In Health (PIH). Working to create PIH Engage[xxiv] has helped us to understand how regular, concerned citizens, can work together to demand new modes of solidarity and redistribution from their communities and elected policy makers. Taken together, I hope to renew a discussion about modes of collective action that could continue to dismantle the deeply held double standards that prevent poor and marginalized people from being served by health care delivery systems.

Bourdieu and theory in the right to health movement

Pierre Bourdieu, a giant of 20th century sociology, built a theory of social action based on field research ranging from kinship relationships in isolated villages in Algeria to the social processes of production, circulation, and consumption of art and literature in 19th century France. His work sought to bring “reflexive”[xxv] sociological methods into building a whole understanding of social action: to “uncover the most profoundly buried structures of the various social worlds which constitute the social universe, as well as the ‘mechanisms’ which tend to ensure their reproduction and their transformation.”[xxvi] If the movement for the right to health is a process of social transformation, Bourdieu gives us a way to understand the ‘buried’ mechanisms that could be useful in hastening that transformation. Particularly useful to this understanding, Bourdieu describes three fundamental ideas that govern social action: field, habitus, and capital.

The field of social action is produced and reproduced by individuals and organizations that do not exist in a vacuum. Individuals and organizations exist in relationship to one another as they work in pursuit of shared aims, develop shared taken-for-granteds, grow shared interpretations, and come into competition for scarce resources. Loïc Wacquant offers a succinct definition: “a field is a patterned system of objective forces (much in the manner of a magnetic field), a relational configuration endowed with a specific gravity which it imposes on all objects and agents which enter it… Simultaneously, [it is] a space of conflict and competition, the analogy here being with a battlefield, in which participants vie to establish monopoly over the species of capital effective in it.”[xxvii] This social jostling and competition between actors in the field set up the terrain of a social game that is played out by social actors vying for dominance.

The habitus can be understood as an individual’s patterns of thoughts, behaviors, tastes, and actions acquired by their experienced participation in the social field of action. Bourdieu describes it as: “embodied history, internalized as a second nature and so forgotten as history—the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product.”[xxviii] Wacquant expands, “Cumulative exposure to certain social conditions instills in individuals an ensemble of durable and transposable dispositions that internalize the necessities of the extant social environment, inscribing inside the organism the patterned inertia and constraints of external reality… habitus is creative, inventive, but within the limits of its structures”.[xxix] The field of practice tends to produce individuals who have experienced and internalized the rules of the game as their habitus. Those individuals tend to then act in a way that reproduces the socially constructed field of practice, which, in turn, reinforces the internalized habitus of those in the field.

Finally, Bourdieu conceptualizes capital as multifaceted forms of field-specific power: economic, social, and symbolic. Economic capital is immediately transformable into money, but social capital (social relationships, friendships, partnerships), symbolic capital (prestige, clout), cultural capital (credentials, awards), and other forms of field-specific capital aren’t immediately transformable into financial resources. Non-economic forms of capital can be used to dominate fields of practice that organize society. Bourdieu compares each field to a market in which individuals and collective actors compete for the accumulation of the various forms of capital. In a field of practice, an agent with more capital will be successful over those actors with less capital.[xxx]

Again, Wacquant summarizes: “together, habitus and field designate bundles of relations. A field consists of a set of objective, historical relations between positions anchored in certain forms of power (or capital), while habitus consists of a set of historical relations ‘deposited’ within individual bodies in the form of mental and corporeal schemata of perception, appreciation, and action.”[xxxi] For us to build better theory and strategy for the right to health movement, we will need an effort to better construct an understanding of the field of practice of global heath within the broader field of international development and humanitarian relief.

Monika Krause has an important and penetrating analysis of the field of humanitarian reason and international development.[xxxii] In it, she takes a “Bourdieusian” approach to the description of the field of practice of humanitarian organizations. Organizations in this field, no matter how large, must make decisions about what to do, who to serve, and how best to serve them, in order to make their missions manageable. She describes this field as a set of relationships between large, international NGOs. These NGOs inhabit a shared social space and logic of practice that is governed by the pursuit and production of ideal “good projects”—those that can produce short term, quantifiable effects and serve groups that are relatively easy to assist. Krause argues that, “humanitarian relief is a form of production, transforming some things into other things. Agencies produce relief in the form of relief projects. As the unit of production is the project, managers seek to ‘do good projects.’ The pursuit of the good project develops a logic of its own that shapes the allocation of resources but also the types of activities that we are likely to see—and the type of activities we are not likely to see.”[xxxiii] The logic governing the production of the “good project” is driven by the habitus of “desk officers,” who are responsible for making these decisions and in doing so, practice a process of triage in response to resource constraints. International development financing and bilateral foreign aid programs create a global market of easily comparable “good projects” that are driven by principles of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, sustainability, and short term intervention: principles of neoliberalism.

These principles are generally incompatible with the goal of enabling governments, over the long term, to protect the right to health. The logic of “the good project” serves the practical function of transforming the role of the public sector through competitive contracting to for-profit and nonprofit private actors. The emergence of a global scale of comparison for relief projects drives the “projectification” of the field of global health and international development.[xxxiv]

If we accept Krause’s analysis of the current field of practice of humanitarian relief—one that drives the structured production and financing of narrowly defined good projects—organizations with a different logic might be able to mount an insurgent response. For instance, organizations with the explicit purpose to accompany ministries of health and governments to be effective in delivering on commitments to protect the right to health for their citizens could band together to demand new policies and financing mechanisms that are well suited to those ends.

This understanding may shed light on the ways that the history of neoliberal ideology is reproduced throughout financing, policy, and the organizational practices of international NGOs. It could also provide new insights for the network of organizations and individuals who strive for a different reality: one where the access to high-quality health care services is not a function of one’s ability to pay for them. To build this new reality, we need a social movement. But, first we must understand how social movements come about; especially how they emerge, expand, and decline.

McAdam and the emergence of social movements

Doug McAdam’s political process model is a very useful framework for analyzing social movements. It identifies three sets of factors that are considered to be crucial for the emergence and development of social movements. First, organizational strength—the degree to which an aggrieved population is organized, formally or informally—is an essential component to the successful emergence of a social movement. Second, the collective assessment of political opportunities and chances of success is necessary to build momentum within grassroots organization. Finally, a degree of political alignment between the locally organized insurgent groups and the broader political and socioeconomic environment is necessary to be able to exploit spaces of opportunity for the social movement to expand. These three factors could be thought of as “degree of organizational readiness”, the level of “insurgent consciousness”, and finally the “structure of political opportunities.”[xxxv]

This model for conceptualizing social movement emergence can be visualized like the diagram below. Broad socioeconomic processes create the space (or remove space) and develop expanding (or contracting) political opportunities for insurgent groups to advance their movement. Yet, relying on an overly deterministic and structural set of factors to explain social movement emergence is insufficient to describe the range of movements and insurgency we see in the world. These structural factors enable a certain “structural potential” for political action, but they do not guarantee it. The final factor necessary for the emergence of social movements is the notion of “cognitive liberation”—the capacity for a group to transform their understanding, name their situation as unjust, and have the capacity to imagine an alternative reality that could be transformed together.[xxxvi] This cognitive liberation is a function of leadership, narrative, teamwork, and action.

Figure 1: Political process model for social movement emergence (McAdam, 1982)

Figure 1: Political process model for social movement emergence (McAdam, 1982)

Bourdieu’s notions of field and capital and McAdam’s political process model were brought together in an analysis of the reform process that produced a major shift in global multi-drug tuberculosis (MDRTB) treatment policy in the late 1990’s.[xxxvii] Victor Roy, in his Cambridge University master’s thesis, builds an understanding of the field of social action that led to the WHO’s focus on Directly Observed Therapy Short Course (DOTS)[xxxviii] as the single and only means of tuberculosis (TB) treatment from the 1970’s through the early 1990’s. This treatment regimen categorically excluded attempts to treat people with drug-resistant disease. Roy links this understanding of the field of global TB policy making to reform efforts made by Partners In Health and the organization’s strategy to demonstrate that MDRTB could be treated and cured effectively in poor settings like the slums of Lima, Peru. Leaders of PIH were able to mobilize field-specific scientific and cultural capital that became significant enough to alter the “cognitive cues” of those in the field. Together, they created a new “frame” of cognitive liberation that enabled potential allies and others to understand that the field was increasingly vulnerable to potential change.[xxxix]

The case of reform in MDRTB treatment policy is not, in the full sense, a “social movement”. Although, Roy’s analysis does demonstrate the significant opportunity to utilize the joint tools of Bourdieu and McAdam in studying reform efforts in global health policy, it is important to understand the shortcomings. The global tuberculosis epidemic has not abated and TB recently became the largest infectious disease killer in the world.[xl] Higher prices for key MDRTB drugs, lack of new pooled donor financing mechanisms, and perpetually weak health systems all present significant barriers to making progress in ending TB.[xli] Why has this reform effort been unsuccessful or, at least, incomplete?

Turning back to Bourdieu and McAdam we could understand the gap in terms of the types of capital that were chosen and available to PIH to mobilize their reform effort. The PIH team was able to enter the field of global TB policy making primarily due to their ability to mobilize the symbolic and scientific capital available because of their position within Harvard Medical School. The limited capital available to PIH structured and limited its strategy to focus primarily on technical policy changes—shifting DOTS protocol to DOTS-plus[xlii] and the development of the Green Light Committee at the WHO[xliii]—rather than a more broad-based political strategy. In Bourdieusian terms, the limitation could be understood as a lack of access to political capital that would be necessary to mobilize democratic pressure for larger redistributive financing mechanisms. Similarly, using McAdam’s political process model we would interpret this as a gap in local organizational strength of the reform movement. The PIH experience with TB stands in contrast to the AIDS treatment movement during which large numbers of activist groups were involved in grassroots political mobilization to exert local-level political pressure on key policy makers responsible for U.S. government global AIDS policy-making and funding.[xliv] These two historical examples and the theoretical tools of Bourdieu and McAdam are useful to understand the current moment in the movement for the right to health. But, if strong, local grassroots organizations are an important source of field-specific capital for global health reform, it is important to consider how they are built throughout social movements.

Marshall Ganz, organizing, and social movement leadership

Doug McAdam’s political process model gives us an elegant means of describing the emergence and growth of social movements, but it does not give concrete tools or specific practical guidance for individuals and organizations seeking to advance a particular struggle. Marshall Ganz’ work to build a practical and theoretically deep pedagogy of community organizing gives such a framework. Ganz’ organizing pedagogy enables individuals and organizations to identify, cultivate, and grow the capacities of leaders to advance collective action. Central to Ganz’ view of organizing is a deep notion of social movement leadership:

Leading in social movements requires learning to manage the core tensions at the heart of what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls the “prophetic imagination”: a combination of criticality (experience of the worlds pain) with hope (experience of the worlds possibility), avoiding being numbed by despair or deluded by optimism. A deep desire for change must be coupled with the capacity to make change. Structures must be created that create the space within which growth, creativity, and action can flourish, without slipping into the chaos of structurelessness, and leaders must be recruited, trained, and developed on a scale required to build the relationships, sustain the motivation, do the strategizing, and carry out the action required to achieve success.[xlv]

Successful social movement leadership is not something innate in individuals, it is something that can be learned and purposefully cultivated. Ganz has developed a robust practice of community organizing training[xlvi] that closely links a set of iteratively developed leadership practices. Relationships that are purpose-based and rooted in shared values, built on commitments, and grown from an exchange of resources and interests must be formed. New stories about the potential for a shared future that links values, emotion, and action into a “story of self,” a “story of us,” and a “story of now” must be told. Social movement leaders must develop creative strategies to successfully challenge those with more power by harnessing opportunities that arise due to environmental or context changes. Organizations must create purposeful structure amongst membership and organize time into campaigns for real action that grows power over time. Finally, teams must be developed that enable “snowflake-like” leadership structures and are capable of collaboratively deliberating, making decisions, and holding members accountable.[xlvii]

Moving from theoretical to organizationally pragmatic, Pierre Bourdieu, Doug McAdam, and Marshall Ganz give us an extremely useful set of ideas that should be more systematically deployed by scholars of and practitioners within the movement for the right to health. Bourdieu gives us a way to imagine the field of global health as a collection of actors working to expand their economic, social, and symbolic capital to control the “rules of the game”. The social movement for the right to health is a reform effort that seeks to shift the field away from neoliberal-dominated practice towards the aim of expanding state-protected rights. McAdam gives us a more specific way to view the social movement for the right to health. Using the political process model, we can analyze the structure of political opportunities that characterize the current moment for the right to health movement, the strength of local, grassroots organizations, and opportunities for “cognitive liberation” to imagine new realities of health care delivery in settings of poverty. Finally, Ganz gives a pragmatic model of local community organizing leadership training that civil society, grassroots community groups, and health care delivery oriented NGOs could adopt to grow the local capacities of actors in the struggle for the right to health.

The current moment: the urgent need for a revitalized movement

In certain circles, the current narrative around political opportunities for the right to health movement is pessimistic. In 2012, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation asked if we were nearing the “end of the golden age of global health”.[xlviii] Decrying the weakening of bipartisan leadership in global health and a precipitous decline in the number of direct action activist organizations focused on expanding global AIDS funding,[xlix] it may appear that the movement that spurred the creation of the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (The Global Fund) and the corresponding “delivery decade”[l] may be waning. However, four trends ought to give us hope.

First, the rise of universal health coverage (UHC) as a key global goal in the unanimously adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals[li] presents an important opportunity to create more political space for the right to health agenda. While this is an opportunity to demand access to quality health services far more broadly, it is also a contested concept that the right to health movement will need to make claims and build consensus around.[lii] A clear definition of UHC is necessary if we are to avoid the pitfalls of “Health for All” in 1987’s Alma-Ata Declaration which had high level leadership, but lacked sufficient political and budgetary space to realize its aims. It is clear that political will and engagement with civil society will be necessary to promote a rights-based approach and to institutionalize accountability to meet the needs of disadvantaged people.[liii]

A second important expanding political opportunity is the election of Dr. Jim Yong Kim as the president of the World Bank Group in 2012.[liv] Dr. Kim is a long-time right to health activist and his book Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor[lv] is a compilation of essays detailing how neoliberal policies deployed by the World Bank have harmed the health of poor and marginalized people and hampered states’ capacity to protect the right to health of their citizens. We should see his appointment as an opportunity to deploy this powerful position to imagine and actually create new financing mechanisms for the expansion of rights-based UHC in low-income countries.

Third, we are in an open U.S. presidential election in which candidates on both sides of the aisle must actively campaign. This presents a significant opportunity for right to health activists to engage with them on the campaign trail at small and mid-sized events in early-primary states. Commitments matter during campaigns (presidential campaigns in particular) when candidates are forced to take specific stances on issues and make pledges to quantifiable targets.[lvi] We have an opportunity to birddog[lvii], a tactic pioneered by AIDS activists, to gain commitments from politicians, many of whom have been significantly supportive of global health efforts in the past.

Finally, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa decimated already beleaguered health systems and killed more than eleven thousand people.[lviii] This has driven significant new discussion by policy makers on the role of U.S government development assistance in strengthening health systems in low-income countries.[lix] This framing—Ebola as a failure of already weak health systems—creates a powerful window for activists in the right to health movement to advance calls for new legislation that could enable new investments in health systems strengthening in poor countries.

With these factors taken into consideration, the structure of political opportunities seems robust. But, what about the “structural potential” of locally organized constituencies and grassroots organizations? Globally, there is a growing network of global health delivery organizations working with a rights-based approach that seek to link delivery of services to accompaniment of the public sector and the generation of new knowledge.[lx],[lxi],[lxii],[lxiii],[lxiv] Additionally, a large network of student driven global health organizations[lxv],[lxvi],[lxvii],[lxviii],[lxix],[lxx],[lxxi] is moving forward and expanding global health academic programs at universities across the U.S.[lxxii],[lxxiii]

Figure 2: Growth of academic global health programs in the U.S. (majors, minors, study abroad programs, centers, and other formal programs dedicated to global health studies)

Figure 2: Growth of academic global health programs in the U.S. (majors, minors, study abroad programs, centers, and other formal programs dedicated to global health studies)

Although many of these student driven global health organizations are primarily service and education oriented, students are increasingly engaged in politics and activism.[lxxiv] Other global health activist networks are also working hard to advance justice-based policies in health.[lxxv],[lxxvi] All told, there seems to be growing “structural potential” in the right to health movement. There are more rights-based delivery organizations, more scholarship and university engagement in global health, and more potential global health justice activists than ever before. This structure can potentially be mobilized and directed toward the immense challenges faced by the right to health movement.

Figure 3: Political process model adapted to model the current moment in the right to health movement

Figure 3: Political process model adapted to model the current moment in the right to health movement

Cognitive liberation—imagining new realities that are not immediately available to our socially constructed notion of reality, our habitus—is necessary to translate this structural potential into action and momentum for the right to health. From demonstrating an effective model for curing MDRTB in Lima, Peru[lxxvii],[lxxviii] to demonstrating that HIV treatment could be scaled in places of extreme poverty like central Haiti,[lxxix] PIH has worked to prove the possible in global health. Roy demonstrates how this proof, which is developed via the accrual of scientific capital, can catalyze policy reforms by altering the balance of power within a field of global health practice. These beacons of hope should serve as an antidote to despair in the midst of a culture that is socialized for scarcity.[lxxx] The future to the right to health movement is dependent on recasting the global health equity narrative towards one of possibility, growing new grassroots organizations that have the capacity to do political work, and creating the policy space for novel financing mechanisms.

PIH Engage: An organizing model in practice

PIH Engage was launched in 2011 with the goal of harnessing the goodwill and enthusiasm for the right to health mission of Partners In Health that has grown during its 25 years of work fighting for global health equity. We are attempting to deploy Marshall Ganz’ model of community organizing—identifying and recruiting volunteer leaders, building community around that leadership, and generating power from that community—as a way to enable regular, concerned citizens, to work together to demand new modes of solidarity and redistribution from their communities and elected policy makers. So far, we have organized more than 90 teams of volunteer community organizers across the U.S. to engage their local communities, organize campaigns that raise funds for health care delivery efforts, and take on direct advocacy campaigns to create new policy space for rights-based financing mechanisms.

By the end of this year, we hope to have raised more than one million dollars from grassroots supporters, gained real commitments from political actors, from U.S. senators and representatives, as well as held demonstrations on dozens of college campuses and cities across the U.S., and moved forward a major new piece of health systems strengthening legislation. This work has a long way to go before it could be characterized as a social movement. And, even if successful, this effort will only be one small component of a much larger trans-national effort. But I believe that our experience so far shows that it has been a worthwhile investment. Hopefully PIH Engage can serve as a model for other rights-based healthcare delivery and advocacy organizations to strategize on how they could grow networks of organizers dedicated to advancing right to health campaigns in their local communities.

There is an opportunity to more systematically build theory and practice in the study of the right to health movement. Pierre Bourdieu gives us a theoretical framework with which to analyze the socially constructed field of practice that mediates and constrains the way organizations and individuals in the right to health struggle engage in the world. Doug McAdam gives us a model of social movement emergence and tools to analyze the structure of political opportunities, organizational strength, and narrative-driven cognitive liberation that can help direct strategic action. Finally, Marshall Ganz gives a concrete community organizing training and organizational framework that can be deployed by organizations to build a more powerful base of grassroots activists. If we take these linked frameworks as useful, we can see our collective work as growing the types of field-specific capital necessary to reorient the “rules of the game”, especially the way in which global health delivery gets financed. This field-specific capital could be grown through a wide variety of tactics: growing fundraising capacity, building the evidence base for effective rights-based delivery efforts, creating new narratives of possibility and beacons of hope, mobilizing the grassroots around this narrative of possibility, and developing grass-tops and grassroots political power capable of implementing new policy and financing mechanisms.

This essay is not meant as a comprehensive analysis of the right to health movement or a full review of the scholarship of social movements, community organizing, and their application to the right to health movement. It is however an attempt to sketch out an opportunity for expanded research and practice directed towards building a better understanding and more robust strategy for the practical effort of advancing a successful right to health movement.

Works Cited:

[i] Barlow, Phillip. “Health Care Is Not a Human Right.” British Medical Journal, 1999, 321.

[ii] Farmer P. Pathologies of power: rethinking health and human rights. American Journal of Public Health. 1999;89(10):1486-1496.

[iii] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), G.A. Res. 217A (III) (1948), Art. xxv. Available at

[iv] Kingston, Lindsey N, Elizabeth F Cohen, and Christopher P Morley. “Debate: Limitations on Universality: The ‘right to Health’ and the Necessity of Legal Nationality.” BMC International Health and Human Rights: 11.

[v] Boggio, Andrea, Matteo Zignol, Emesto Jaramillo, Paul Nunn, Geneviève Pinet, and Mario Raviglione. “Limitations on Human Rights: Are They Justifiable to Reduce the Burden of TB in the Era of MDR- and XDR-TB?”Health and Human Rights, 2008, 121.

[vi] Kim, Jim Yong, Paul Farmer, and Michael E Porter. “Redefining Global Health-care Delivery.” The Lancet, 2013, 1060-069.

[vii] Frenk, Julio. “The Global Health System: Strengthening National Health Systems as the Next Step for Global Progress.” PLoS Medicine 7, no. 1 (2010).

[viii] Binagwaho, Agnes, Cameron T. Nutt, Vincent Mutabazi, Corine Karema, Sabin Nsanzimana, Michel Gasana, Peter C. Drobac, Michael L. Rich, Parfait Uwaliraye, Jean Nyemazi, Michael R. Murphy, Claire M. Wagner, Andrew Makaka, Hinda Ruton, Gita N. Mody, Danielle R. Zurovcik, Jonathan A. Niconchuk, Cathy Mugeni, Fidele Ngabo, Jean De Dieu Ngirabega, Anita Asiimwe, and Paul E. Farmer. “Shared Learning in an Interconnected World: Innovations to Advance Global Health Equity.” Globalization and Health Global Health, 2013.

[ix] Gostin, Lawrence O. “A Framework Convention on Global Health.” JAMA, 2012.

[x] Forman, Lisa, Gorik Ooms, Audrey Chapman, Eric Friedman, Attiya Waris, Everaldo Lamprea, and Moses Mulumba. “What Could a Strengthened Right to Health Bring to the Post-2015 Health Development Agenda?: Interrogating the Role of the Minimum Core Concept in Advancing Essential Global Health Needs.” BMC International Health and Human Rights, 2013.

[xi] Gamson, Josh. “Silence, Death, and the Invisible Enemy: AIDS Activism and Social Movement “Newness”” Social Problems: 351-67.

[xii] Kapstein, Ethan B., and Joshua W. Busby. Kapstein, Ethan B., and Joshua W. Busby. AIDS Drugs for All: Social Movements and Market Transformations.

[xiii] Keshavjee, Salmaan. Blind Spot: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Global Health. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

[xiv] Epstein, Steven. Impure Science AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

[xv] Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

[xvi] McAdam, Doug. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

[xvii] Ganz, Marshall. “Leading Change Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements.” Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business, 2010.

[xviii] Davis, Gerald F. Social Movements and Organization Theory. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[xix] Krause, Monika. The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

[xx] Viterna, Jocelyn, and Cassandra Robertson. “New Directions for the Sociology of Development.” Annual Review of Sociology, 2015.

[xxi] Roy, Victor. “The Politics of Reform in Global Health Policy: The Case of Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, 1991-2001.” Dissertation for University of Cambridge, 2010.

[xxii] Kleinman, Arthur. “Four Social Theories for Global Health.” The Lancet, 2010, 1518-519.

[xxiii] Farmer, Paul. “Unpacking Global Health: Theory and Critique.” In Reimagining Global Health an Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

[xxiv] “PIH Engage.” PIH Engage. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[xxv] Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loi Wacquant. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 36-46.

[xxvi] Ibid., 7.

[xxvii] Ibid., 17.

[xxviii] Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990. 56.

[xxix] Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loi Wacquant. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 13-19.

[xxx] Ibid., 18.

[xxxi] Ibid., 16.

[xxxii] Krause, Monika. The Good Project: Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 37

[xxxiv] Biehl, Joao. “Therapeutic Clientship: Belonging in Unganda’s Projectified Landscape of AIDS Care.” In When People Come First Critical Studies in Global Health. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.

[xxxv] McAdam, Doug. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 40-51.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 35.

[xxxvii] Roy, Victor. “The Politics of Reform in Global Health Policy: The Case of Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, 1991-2001.” Dissertation for University of Cambridge, 2010.

[xxxviii] World Health Organization (1998). Basis for the development of an evidence based case management strategy for MDR-TB within WHO’s DOTS strategy. Geneva: WHO, accessed at “World Health Organization & Library Information Networks for Knowledge Database (WHOLIS).” Web. March-May 2010.

[xxxix] Roy, Victor. “The Politics of Reform in Global Health Policy: The Case of Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, 1991-2001.” Dissertation for University of Cambridge, 2010.

[xl] World Health Organization (2015). World Tuberculosis Report (20th Edition). Retrieved from:

[xli] Hwang, Thomas J., and Salmaan Keshavjee. “Global Financing and Long-Term Technical Assistance for Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis: Scaling Up Access to Treatment.” PLoS Medicine 11.9 (2014): e1001738. PMC. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

[xlii] Farmer, Paul. “DOTS and DOTS-Plus. Not the Only Answer.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: 165-84.

[xliii] Gupta, Rajesh, Alexander Irwin, Mario Raviglione, and Jim Kim. “Scaling-up Treatment for HIV/AIDS: Lessons Learned from Multidrug-resistant Tuberculosis.” The Lancet 363 (2004): 320-24.

[xliv] “The Troubled Path to HIV/AIDS Universal Treatment Access: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory?” In Global HIV/AIDS Politics, Policy and Activism: Persistent Challenges and Emerging Issues, edited by Raymond A. Smith, by Patricia Siplon. Praeger, 2013.

[xlv] Ganz, Marshall. “Leading Change Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements.” Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business, 2010.

[xlvi] Ganz, Marshall. Marshall Ganz Teaching Comments. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[xlvii] Ganz, Marshall. “Leading Change Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements.” Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business, 2010.

[xlviii] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “Financing Global Health 2012: The End of the Golden Age?” Seattle, WA: IHME, 2012.

[xlix] Morrison, J. Stephen. “The End of the Golden Era of Global Health?” Editorial. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Web. <>.

[l] Farmer, Paul E. “Chronic Infectious Disease and the Future of Health Care Delivery.” New England Journal of Medicine, 2013, 2424-436.

[li] “Goal 3.8 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lii] O’Connell, Thomas, Kumanan Rasanathan, and Mickey Chopra. “What Does Universal Health Coverage Mean?” The Lancet: 277-79.

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Garrett, Laurie. “Dr. Kim and the World Bank’s Health Role.” Council on Foreign Relations. April 13, 2012. Accessed December 6, 2015. <>.

[lv] Kim, Jim Yong. Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. Monroe, ME.: Common Courage Press, 2000.

[lvi] Nelson, Libby. “Campaign Promises Matter.” Vox. November 27, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2015.

[lvii] Davis, Paul. “Five Questions For: ‘Take the Money Out’ Activist Paul Davis about Disrupting a National Journal Event.” Interview by David Ferguson. Raw Story 6 Sept. 2012. Accessed October 30, 2015. <>.

[lviii] “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Case Counts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 4, 2015. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lix] “United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.” Hearing. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lx] “We Have Everything We Need to End Child Mortality Now.” Muso. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxi] “Hope Through Health.” Hope Through Health Home Page. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxii] “Home | Possible.” Possible Health. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxiii] “Home Page.” Last Mile Health. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxiv] “PIVOT Health.” PIVOT Home. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxv] “GlobeMed | Developing 21st Century Leaders for Global Health.” GlobeMed. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxvi] “Global Health Corps Home.” Global Health Corps. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxvii] “Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) Home.” Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC). Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxviii] “Universities Allied for Essential Medicines.” Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxix] “Help @end_7 End 7 Diseases and Lessen Suffering for over ½ a Billion Kids in the Developing World.” END 7 Home. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxx] “Join PIH Engage.” PIH Engage. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxxi] “Home – Timmy Global Health.” Timmy Global Health. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxxii] Merson, Michael H. “University Engagement in Global Health.” New England Journal of Medicine: May 1, 2014. 1676-678.

[lxxiii] Matheson, Alastair I., Judd L. Walson, James Pfeiffer, and King Holmes. Sustainability and Growth of University Global Health Programs. Rep. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2014.

[lxxiv] Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “Colleges Are Producing New Style of AIDS Activist.” The New York Times. November 30, 2010.

[lxxv] “Health Global Access Project (Health GAP).” Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxxvi] “RESULTS | Homepage.” RESULTS. Accessed December 6, 2015.

[lxxvii] Shin, Sonya, Jennifer Furin, Jaime Bayona, Kedar Mate, Jim Yong Kim, and Paul Farmer. “Community-based Treatment of Multidrug-resistant Tuberculosis in Lima, Peru: 7 Years of Experience.” Social Science & Medicine, 2004, 1529-539.

[lxxviii] Roy, Victor. “The Politics of Reform in Global Health Policy: The Case of Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, 1991-2001.” Dissertation for University of Cambridge, 2010.

[lxxix] Farmer, P, Léandre, F, Mukherjee, J, Gupta, R, Tarter, L, Kim, J Y. “Community-based treatment of advanced HIV disease: introducing DOT-HAART (directly observed therapy with highly active antiretroviral therapy)” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2001, Vol.79(12), pp.1145-51

[lxxx] Farmer, Paul. “An Anthropology of Structural Violence.” Current Anthropology, 2003, 305-25.

Evolution of Global Health Education – High School Edition

Working with the PIH | Engage National Team, our research focuses on the existence and possible advancement of global health curricula at the high school level.  The methodology of our research – the final project of which will be a case study – is interview-based. We have been exploring the ways in which three current high school teachers are incorporating global health issues into their curricula. The aim of our project is to create a picture of the models and structures behind each teacher’s global health curriculum, in order to explain the development, implementation, and advancement of their curriculum within their respective schools.  The valuable knowledge these teachers have shared with us will hopefully serve to inspire and empower fellow high school teachers interested in global health, and open the discussion on the broader expansion of these curricula.

The three public high school teachers interviewed for this case study project include: Jeffrey Shea, a Social Studies teacher at Belmont High School in Massachusetts, teaching a “Global Leadership” elective course to 11th and 12th grader students; Matthew Cone, also a Social Studies teacher, teaching two elective courses titled “Global Issues” to 10th through 12th grade students at Carrboro High School in North Carolina; and Bradley Lewis, an Advanced Placement Statistics teacher who teaches mostly 11th and 12th grade students at Bainbridge High School in Washington.

Thus far, we’ve conducted first-round qualitative interviews with each teacher, focusing on the teachers’ process of curriculum development and implementation, as well as the content of the curriculum itself.  The responses we received from each informant far exceeded our initial expectations, and fueled our excitement and passion for this project.

One teacher provides insight on how to incorporate global health issues into a rigid Advanced Placement curriculum… Another talks about the his global health unit, during which he brings his entire class on a field trip to Partners In Health… And the other describes the way in which his course has empowered and inspired his students, particularly minority students, who previously had self-ascribed low expectations. Most notably, however, is the fact that all three teachers stated how this topic meets their students’ passion for learning about injustice, and desire to learn about the world: giving us great hope regarding the potential for change underlying the expansion of global health curricula at the high school level.

The fact that none of the teachers teach an entire class dedicated solely to global health reflects the interdisciplinary nature of global health, and therefore its ability to be easily integrated into a broader curriculum. We believe the foundational knowledge that a global health high school curriculum could provide to students would inspire and prepare a new generation of young leaders to take on major issues facing our modern world.

We believe in the power of collective movement building, and think that high school students are often an underestimated, underutilized group filled with passionate individuals yearning to make a difference in the world. For this reason, we hope this research has the potential to inspire other high school teachers to educate a new contingent of movement builders: young leaders with the potential to advance the goal of establishing health as a human right.

We are still in the midst of interviewing and gathering our research data. But, we are excited to share our results and some ideas for the future of expanding global health education and critical discussion amongst high schoolers in the U.S.


Post was written by Kristine Quiroz and Victoria Oliva.

Kristine is a Junior at Harvard University studying Anthropology and Global Health and Health policy. Born and raised in Southern California, Kristine enjoys going to the beach, hiking, and film/video editing. She is excited about her work thus far with Partners in Health, and hopes to continue doing global health work into the future.

Victoria is a junior at Tufts University majoring in Community Health and Anthropology. She is from Amherst, Massachusetts and enjoys photography, traveling, and playing piano.  She is really excited to be interning with Partners In Health this semester and plans to pursue a study of global health in the future. 

PIH | Engage: Forward Progress

It’s only been about 2 months since my last post about PIH | Engage, but our progress on the spring campaign seems exponential. Early in 2014, teams across the country sat down at community “retreats” to lay out a gameplan for the spring, setting ambitious yet realistic goals and devising the timeline, roles, and sets of work necessary to make their ideas a reality. We’re approaching a crucial moment for PIH | Engage: in just a few months, the yearlong campaign will wrap up and we’ll head into a summer of reflection, re-grouping, and rebuilding for next year. The question for these retreats was: how will communities meaningfully demonstrate the significant power they’ve built through months of organizing and hard work? 

The power that we’ve built:

PIH | Engage teams have built up to this moment through many small campaign successes. Just in terms of people power, the movement has grown to more than 430 members! A personal fundraising push around the holidays resulted in more than $26,000 in December alone, and events across the country have brought our total beyond $52,000 to date.

New Community Members

Dollars Raised


Our winter advocacy push focused on generating media around the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria replenishment conference. The Global Fund is an international financing institution that has brought unprecedented resources to fight these epidemics, and through submitting letters to the editor to our local newspapers, PIH | Engage called on the U.S. to pledge $5 billion to the Global Fund over the next three years.  At least 8 letters were published! In addition to these campaign victories, communities hosted many awareness-raising events, panels, film screenings, and social gatherings.

The community on Bainbridge Island, Washington hosted a “Soup Night” at a local bookstore with PIH guest speaker Jon Lascher.The community on Bainbridge Island, Washington hosted a “Soup Night” at a local bookstore with PIH guest speaker Jon Lascher.

The Washington D. C. group held a World Cancer Day happy hour.The Washington D. C. group held a World Cancer Day happy hour.

The team in Madison, Wisconsin bonded at their community retreat.The team in Madison, Wisconsin bonded at their community retreat.

Where we’re headed:

Now, the question is how PIH | Engage can display this power in a final campaign push. First, teams aim to host culminating fundraising events that rally entire communities around the vision of Partners In Health. Not only can these events raise substantial funds, they can engage a broad audience about the work of PIH and PIH | Engage. One idea that many communities have taken on: “Strides for Solidarity” walkathons where people walk in solidarity with community health workers, who often travel many miles over rough terrain to reach vulnerable patients. Community health workers are the cornerstone of the health care systems PIH works to build – we employ more than 8,000 CHWs across our sites. By the end of this year’s campaign, I’m confident that PIH | Engage will host more than 10 Strides for Solidarity walkathons.

Communities are also working to push forward an exciting advocacy campaign. As I write this, Congress is debating funding levels for next year’s federal budget, including key foreign aid programs that could bring millions to global health interventions. Congress gives less than 1% of the budget to humanitarian aid – we need to tell them to do better. PIH | Engage will engage with our legislators through in-person meetings, letters, phone calls, and emails and urge them to make global health a priority in next year’s budget. Specifically, we’re asking them to increase funding levels to $800 million for global maternal and child health, and $200 million for nutrition programs.

By the end of June, PIH | Engage organizers will have held dozens of meetings with Congressmen to discuss these issues. And, as you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join us! We’ve created an easy tool that helps you write a letter to your Senators and Representative in Congress in just 2 minutes:

Tell Congress

Sign this call to action now and share with your friends and family!

It’s taken a lot of work to get here, and I can already think of dozens of ways I’d like to change the campaign, our training, and our recruitment for next year. But thinking back to our launch in September, it’s incredible to have seen individual Community Coordinators grow into passionate, dedicated teams ready to host walkathons and meet with Congress! I can’t wait to see what we accomplish by the end of this campaign.

By Sheena Wood

Sheena works as the Community Organizing Assistant at Partners In Health. A recent graduate from Brown University, she enjoys reading about community organizing and global health, traveling, and eating dark chocolate. 

The AIDS movement and Universal Health Coverage

Jim Kim, President of the World Bank continues his campaign pushing for the movement for universal health coverage, linking this push for this movement to the lessons learned from the AIDS treatment movement:

“People were angry that we were talking about treating people with HIV/AIDS,” he said. “It’s as if people were saying that if it were possible to do, we would have done it already.”

He hears the same criticisms about his more recent cause: universal health coverage for all.

The successes and lessons from the global AIDS movement, he said, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event launching a reporton global action toward universal health coverage, can be used to realize the ambition of affordable and equitable health care for the world’s poorest.

With 150 million people forced into catastrophic poverty each year by health care costs, the establishment of universal health coverage, is economically as well as morally essential, Kim said. “Global health investments are imperative for poverty reduction,” he said. “Better investments in health can result in a 9-to-24 time return in full income.”

Building off of the research summarized by the Global Health 2023 commission, Jim Kim, Bill Gates, and Linah Mohohlo will be making the economic case for universal health coverage at The World Economic Forum at the end of January.