Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All

Equal Opportunities for Health: Action for Development

Equal Opportunities for Health: Action for Development

Doctors with Africa Cuamm, committed for over 50 years to promoting health as a right in Africa, have launched a public awareness campaign on global health at the European level. Many European organizations are sharing this effort. This is important. In particular, it is very encouraging to note how members of the Medicus Mundi International Network cooperate in this and other similar projects toward a common goal. We believe that this is a learning process that also helps enhance the effectiveness of the MMI Network.

Health is a fundamental and universal human right incorporated into international legislation. Health is essential for the full development of human potential, not only for the physical, but also for the intellectual and emotional growth of every individual and for the development of the productive and learning capacities required to ensure economic well-being and social advancement, both of which, in their turn, are a necessary element to avert potential social imbalances and conflicts.

Guaranteeing health for all means promoting equal opportunities, justice, development and peace. Today, this seems to be one path that could be followed, given the general agreement within the corpus of preventive and curative medical technologies, the scientific knowledge and financial resources available and, for the first time in history, the commitment of all nations to the fight against poverty in their pursuit of the eight ambitious Millennium Goals, whose health objectives concern malnutrition, cutting infant mortality rates, improving maternal health and controlling epidemics.

Nevertheless, even though there has been an overall improvement in people’s health status at the global level, the improvement has really only affected certain sections of the world population. Not only are the disparities between nations growing – especially between those of the North and the South – but the gap is also widening between social groups within nations themselves. This is particularly clear and significant in developing countries, where access to health services is difficult for people who are already economically and socially vulnerable, which causes them to regress even further and deepens their poverty.

These differences, which are strong indicators that everyone’s right to health is not being respected despite the above-mentioned resources and knowledge, are unacceptable not only economically and politically but also at the ethical and moral level: they are unnecessary, avoidable and unjust.

However even though there are still many health systems which are not able to guarantee the right to the best standards of health care possible – due to poor technical or managerial skills, for lack of political will, or lack of responsible organizations – the advent of a global health approach offers an opportunity for recognizing the value and the potential of each human being and promoting the right to health for all.

Based on these premises, and convinced that achieving equal opportunities in health care requires coordinated action and consensus at the international level, in line with their 2008–2015 Strategic Plan, Medici con l’Africa Cuamm, member of the MMI Network, has been promoting the project Equal opportunities for health: action for development, cofinanced by the European Union, and carried out over a two-year period (May 2007 – April 2009), in partnership with sister organizations of MMI and other representatives from the health community.

The overall aim of the project has been to mobilize public opinion in Europe in order to promote global health and equal opportunities for health, by encouraging strategies for creating more equal relations between the North and the South and for reducing poverty and social exclusion in developing countries.

The project intends to continue pursuing this objective, firstly, through the provision of information and training to raise awareness among the wider health community on questions of global health and equal opportunities for health care. The project targets students, teaching personnel in Human Sciences Schools, representatives of local and district health authorities and centers of research, scientific societies and all categories of health workers, including representatives of NGOs and other associations involved in promoting the right to health.

Health workers, both present and future, can be directly involved in two ways. On the one hand they will adopt a more global approach to health and develop and reinforce those competences and abilities which are required to face the challenges, both social and professional, posed by a globalized world – for example, having to treat patients from a variety of geographical areas or meeting the challenges posed by new contagious diseases. They will also be able to take up the many new opportunities of, for example, becoming involved in international work. On the other hand, given their various social and professional roles and the variety of contexts in which they work, health workers can carry out an important function as information spreaders and opinion makers. In other words, they can act as a pressure group for promoting a global approach to health and by elaborating more egalitarian health policies, becoming de facto activists in the promotion of the right to health and so helping to remove the barriers to making possible the right to health for all.

In order to exploit this potential to its utmost, the quality of training available on global and international health issues must be improved and the current curricula of Human Science Schools – which still tend to concentrate too heavily on national and predominantly clinical aspects – refocused to include a global approach to health.

As a first step for training activities, the Equal opportunities for health: action for development project has been analyzing the state of the art through mapping currently offered university courses in Global and International Health in Italian faculties of medicine and surgery. The aim is, on the one hand, to see how open each faculty would be to introducing such courses and, on the other, to outline needs and training objectives and identify the course content which the faculties think is fundamental for a course on Global Health. This would include a module dedicated to international health cooperation, especially in Africa, and the teaching materials required. Academic staff will then be trained, and teaching activities organized on the basis of each curriculum proposed. These could be electives offered in Human Sciences Schools, distance learning, training seminars in health authorities and hospitals and special sessions held during congresses of scientific and health societies and associations.

As well as intervening at the level of training, Equal opportunities for health: action for development is committed to raising awareness by organizing workshops for promoters and activists in order to increase their knowledge and competencies both on questions of global health and on the techniques of communication and awareness raising. Volunteers too, in their turn, will be involved in organizing workshops and awareness days around the country and Health Equality Days in Italian faculties of medicine and surgery. An international conference dedicated to the theme of global health will aim to raise awareness at the political level in order to promote effective and radical innovations in the field of education and health policies.

Given the importance of disseminating information in order to mobilize public opinion, communication activities have been constantly underway. Information updates on project activities, useful links and bibliographic resources all have their space on the Medici con l’Africa Cuamm website dedicated to the project. Various publications have been produced with contributions from all the partners and associations involved in the project, including, in English, an issue of the review Salute e Sviluppo – Health and Development, an electronic newsletter and other printed materials dedicated to the theme of global health, and the 2008 Italian Global Health Watch Report on Global Health (also in English). The teaching and information materials collate and present (along with other material) the results of a study carried out within the project by the Uganda Martyrs University of Nkozi on the question of inequality of access to health services in Uganda. The materials produced are being disseminated by all the partners and associates involved in the project within their own reference community and using their own channels of communication to increase the impact.
Project impact is ensured by the importance and influence of the partners involved: 29 partners and associates representing medical-health communities in six European Union member States (Italy, Germany, Poland, the UK, Belgium and Spain) working to promote an efficient exchange of knowledge, experience and good practices and to create new synergies at the European level. They also help to develop the international consensus required to increase political and institutional support, which in turn will influence the way in which public health policies are elaborated. All efforts that will, ultimately, guarantee human well-being and promote a more equal world.

Serena Foresi, Elisabetta Bertotti and Giovanni Putoto, Cuamm, in: MMI Annual Report 2008

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