Neoliberalism versus the right to health

October 9, 2016


Earlier this year, the book Global Health, Human Rights and the Challenge of Neoliberal Policies was published by Cambridge University Press. This book, written by Audrey Chapman, has now been reviewed by the Health and Human Rights Journal. In this book, Chapman presents an in-depth examination of the conflicts between neoliberalism, the dominant economic policy framework in the world today, and the international human right to health.

According to Gillian MacNaughton, who wrote the book review, “the book is remarkable for offering both an accessible account and a deep critical analysis of the impacts of current market-based approaches to health care and the social determinants of health.”

In Chapter 3, Chapman describes and juxtaposes the post-World War II welfare state, with the neoliberal state dominant over the last three decades, based on the ideal of the market as the fundamental organizing principle for economic and social life. She concludes that the two ideologies are fundamentally incompatible. With respect to health, she maintains: “A human rights approach rests on a conception of health and health care as social or public goods of special importance that are designed to benefit the whole population. In contrast, neoliberalism tends to promote the view of health care as a commodity whose price, availability, and distribution, like other consumer goods, should be left to the marketplace.”

Health care as a commodity

MacNaughton: “The commodification of health care, Chapman explains, transforms health care into a consumer good – like a candy bar or a television – and the relationship of health care provider and patient into a mere commercial transaction. The rationale for market-based approaches to health and health care is that competition will make the system more efficient and thus improve well-being. Chapman, however, discusses a wealth of research that demonstrates to the contrary that market-based approaches lead to greater inequality, reduced access, institutional corruption, and a host of other ills that result in weakened health systems and poorer health at an overall greater cost.” 

Source and full text: Advancing Global Health and Human Rights in the Neoliberal Era. Book review in Health and Human Rights Journal, 5 October 2016

More information about the book