Call to respect the right to health care Living with AIDS # 469
Health campaigners in east and southern Africa want the United Nations to develop a policy framework to ensure that countries honour and implement the right to health care.
At a meeting in Johannesburg, campaigners aired their fears that health as a human right was not receiving the attention it deserves. Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Nonkosi Khumalo, said this was evident in many African countries, especially given how AIDS has impacted on health service delivery.
‘In the context of AIDS and the delivery of services on AIDS programmes we have seen how our own health care systems in our own countries, especially in Africa and in the developing countries, have actually buckled under pressure. We are not delivering enough on health. We’re not delivering the best service in health’, Khumalo said.
Over 70 countries have incorporated the right to health care into their national constitutions in the last decade. Yet, for billions of the world’s citizens, the right to health is not a reality.
‘These are facts that are as credible as could be. They are taken from the World Health Organisation 2010 World Health Report: In our planet of six billion people, one-third of people lack access to essential medicines; drugs account for 20% – 60% of health care costs; health insurance coverage in Africa is less than 8%; globally, about 150 million poor people suffer catastrophe when they are forced to take money out of their pockets to pay for health care services in order to get basic medical treatment. Another symptom of the malaise of the lack of respect for the right to health care services is the unequal distribution of health care services throughout the world’, said Mark Heywood, Director of social justice organisation, Section 27.
Rich countries have also back-tracked on their commitments to fund health programmes in the developing world. AIDS programmes have suffered the most as a result.
‘There are threatened cut-backs for funding for HIV. There are retreats from commitments to universal access. Two or three years ago all the language was about universal access to HIV treatment. Now the big states ‘ the United States, the European Union, the UK – are running away from universal access. Of course, they don’t say that they’re running away from universal access, but they dress it up in nice-sounding phrases that in reality mean that they’re running away from those commitments’, Heywood added.
Despite the Abuja Declaration of 2001, which recognised health as a crucial concern, Heywood said African leaders have failed to pay health the attention that it deserves in their own national budget allocations. In the Declaration, African leaders pledged to allocate 15% or more to their national health spending.
‘Lots of people make promises that they don’t keep. In 2001 in Africa, we signed the Abuja Declaration on HIV, TB and Malaria, and yet, 10 years later 19 countries who signed the Abuja Declaration are spending less money on health than they were at the time they signed the Declaration. So, what kind of promise is that to populations in Africa?’, he said.
The results have been devastating.
‘In South Africa, in the last 10 years, at least, 2.5 million people have been documented to die as a result of HIV. Globally, TB kills 4 700 people a day in developing countries. Two-hundred million children are shorter than they should be at the age of five due to malnutrition that exists in many developing countries’, he continued.
A human rights activist from Zambia, Daniel Libati, says leaders in Africa suffer from indifference.
‘What I’m talking about is the reaction that comes from our duty-bearers as far as our human rights are concerned. These could be the politicians or the bureaucrats, but more so, I refer to the politicians’, Libati explained.
He related a recent account of such indifference involving the Zambian Deputy Minister of Health some four months ago.
‘Treatment access activists in Zambia had made a case that we had a shortage of drugs; we had drugs which were being rationed. The Deputy Minister (of Health) went on to say, after visiting the central health facility, ‘we have too many drugs; we don’t even have space to store those drugs’.
Now, this is a government which has the duty to ensure that those antiretroviral drugs, those TB drugs, are made available to its citizens. The impression given is that the Minister, the government does not seem to care whether its people get the drugs, don’t get the drugs. That is the kind of indifference I’m talking about, meaning whether we have a right to health or we don’t have a right to health enshrined in our Constitution, the question is: Will our politicians have that will to ensure that that right is actualised?’, said Libati.
Mark Heywood described the lack of attention to health in Africa and the developing world as a tsunami and said it was crucial to have a global convention that will protect the right to health care.
‘The tsunami that’s brought about by these changing factors is going to hit poor people and it’s going to hit poor people’s health. So, we’ve got to stabilise the boat because there is more trouble coming further down the line if we don’t do that’, Heywood said.