World Alliance for
Getting Back to Basics
The cycle of making a difference in any community endeavour involves five things:
Nowhere is this "virtuous cycle" more significant than when it relates to health issues. The wealth of nations is ultimately about the health of nations. The wealth of people is ultimately measured by the health of people. And health must be defined in all its dimensions - physical, mental and social, and where people's intelligence quotient (IQ) is balanced with both emotional quotient (EQ) and spiritual quotient (SQ).
If an "Inter-planetary Commission" visited the planet Earth to review what we have achieved in health, they would be gravely disappointed, even shocked. More than three decades have passed when the world in 1978 issued the Alma Alta Declaration with the goal "Health for All by the Year 2000". The world had sadly, and pathetically, failed to turn this vision into reality. Instead, the world shamelessly continues to be wrecked by violence, manipulation and waste while globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation (what we can call the "GLP" virus) and its inequities are spread by powerful global and transnational organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank.
The global "Health Divide" is shocking, even criminal. Disease and ill health abound while access remains abysmally poor. The power of those hungry for profits seems to grow. Whether it is access to medicines for AIDS or continued systematic subversion of breastfeeding, it must be countered ever more forcefully, intelligently and comprehensively by civil society.
How an Idea Became Reality
A few of us who were part of the original team that in 1998 ,over two decades ago, dared to realise the dream of the idea of a "People's Health Assembly". It was idea I had mooted at the Health Action International (HAI) global meeting held from 27-31st January at the iconic E&O Hotel in Penang, Malaysia - an "activist" filled island and home to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and Pacific, Third World Network(TWN), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), and the previous home to the International Organisation of Consumers Unions(IOCU). We thought about what we should do to move the idea of the Peoples Health Assembly (PHA) forward. We agreed that in all social movements, memory, monitoring and continuing creative action and even defiance are important. These are the building blocks of making real progress for real people and making a difference. To make that happen we need easy access to key informational resources.
Those of us who are engaged in the breastfeeding movement have realised how important it is to remember formal Declarations and other international instruments and norms, our commitments, important strategic documents and to build on these as organising tools to set in motion the virtuous five path cycle of feelings, words, action, changes and vigilance. We have had the deep experience of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding. And we know the importance of documentation and the value of making information popularly accessible in a form that leads to action.
As such when WABA was planning our involvement in the inaugural People's Health Assembly scheduled for Savar, Bangladesh, in December 2000 (hosted by the world inspiring Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury and his team), I said lets do something from our experience that will be an important building block, a useful tool, even something that will last and empower. Like we experienced in the breastfeeding movement, we thought of going back to basics for inspiration. It meant looking at the key and fundamental writings and pronouncements on health issues. And so came the idea of a source book, with the simple but powerful title "Healthy Documents". There was very little time before the inaugural People's Health Assembly to get this initiative off the ground and we had to move fast and well. I knew we had one person in the health network who could get it done, who would bring competence, passion and compassion, and who combines documentation skills, speed and selection insights quite unparalleled among social movements. So I emailed Lakshmi Menon of Bombay, India, who had done many such ventures. And to our good fortune, she agreed even though we could only provide her "rice and water" as compensation. It was to be a labour of love.
And a remarkable collection was the result. We tested it at the first People's Health Assembly and our prototype was enthusiastically received. It was even referred to by the team making the final People's Charter for Health.
Forwarding "Health for All People" in 2012
We decided that now over a decade later that as WABA's contribution to the Third Global People's Health Assembly scheduled for Capetown, South Africa in July 2012, we should do a major update. We were fortunate, once again, to have the services of another passionate, competent and creative person, Jennifer Mourin, to facilitate and lead the immensely participatory process of the update. And she has done this immensely well.
We decided to put all this documentation on a people friendly website and to keep it going as our contribution to the movement for "Health for All People". We hope that it will help to create the political will that is so central to that achievement. And we hope that it will contribute to the Gross National Happiness (GNH) of countries as against the Gross National Product (GNP) which as the late Robert Kennedy, a United States presidential candidate, said so eloquently in 1968 before he was tragically assassinated:
"Gross National Product measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and safety of our streets alike. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our wit nor our courage, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living, and it can tell us everything about our country except those things that make us proud to be part of it."
Today, the world over the "Happiness Index" is gaining movement as the measure of true well being, and central to achieving that well being in something so simple so powerful - our health.
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA)
7th April 2012,
World Health Day.