Cape Town Call to Action

July 17, 2012

The People’s Health Assembly, a conference organized by IFHHRO’s observer People’s Health Movement (PHM), gathered over 800 health activists from over the world in Cape Town, South Africa. At the Assembly, which took place from 6 to 11 July, various issues were discussed in relation to improving the health status of the world’s population.

As PHM as a global movement has a strong political stance towards the right to health, many sessions focused on either mobilizing communities to demand their rights, or how to fight the negative effects of capitalism and neoliberal ideologies on health care, and thus on people’s health. PHM’s vision on the interrelatedness of global politics and economics and health have been summarized in the Cape Town Call for Action, which was drafted during the conference. Interesting lectures included that by Claudio Schuftan in a session on health and human rights. He argued that there should be no profit motive in health care, as examples of privatization, user fees and public-private partnerships show that these measures do not benefit patients with limited resources. He also stressed that the right to health is not limited to access to affordable and good-quality health care, but also includes the social determinants of health such as access to clean drinking water, sewage systems, healthy housing, etc.

Primary Health Care
Several speakers showed interesting examples of countries, programmes and campaigns that have made health systems and services more equitable. For instance, Rwanda, El Salvador and Brazil have reoriented their health systems according to the principles of the Alma Ata Declaration on primary health care. They now rely heavily on the services of community health workers, who work in their own communities and bridge the gap between their neighbours and health professionals. Also Thailand has moved away from a health system that focused mainly on high-quality, expensive medical equipment in urban hospitals to a system of health centres staffed by nurses and supported by community health workers. The country also has nearly universal coverage of health insurance. 

Several speakers who shared their efforts in mobilizing communities to demand health rights mentioned the difficulties encountered when community members and NGO staff approached health workers. They experienced that many health professionals are not used to listen to ‘human rights language’ and sometimes are unwilling to assist their patients in getting access to certain kinds of services or treatments. For IFHHRO, this remains an important issue, which underlines our raison d’etre. Education of medical students as well as health staff on human rights remains of the utmost importance. 

Cape Town Call to Action – draft (PDF)