My wife, Rachel, is doing her Masters of Nursing and Nurse Practitioner at the University of Western. She got really excited about an article she was ready so I picked it up and read it, and I was blown away by how powerful it was. The article was Vicente Navarro’s speech to the Eighths European Conference of the International Union of Health Promotion and Education in Turin, Italy. You can read it in it’s entirety from the link. The speech is mainly in response to the World Health Organization on one of their latest reports on denouncing the social constraints on the development of health.
I love this speech because, for one I understood it, it is always easier to read something that was spoken first rather than something that went straight to paper. I also loved it because I feel like Navarro has a firm grasp on the reality of the world around him, not just health issues. This makes his speech all the more compelling. It is realities like what he speaks of that makes your blood boil. You can see the world become more and more separated by classes of rich and poor, and realizing you are on the victimizing side simply being used by the the upper class above you to fulfill their wishes. The talk felt awfully similar to the conclusions that Naomi Klein comes to in Shock Doctrine, even using some of the same stories. He ends his speech with applauding the WHO report but telling them that they did not go far enough.
And yet, this is where the report falls short. It is not inequalities that kill, but those who benefit from the inequalities that kill.
Vicente is frustrated because he feels like even the WHO report is afraid to call on specific categories of power and instead just talks about the things that they are in power over. He says that the report speaks on generic terms about redistributing resources but is silent on the topic of whose resources. In short I believe that this is exactly what keeps many of us in the bondage we are in to the powers. They are so powerful and so monstrous that we fear actually calling them out by name. But as Vicente says,
…must denounce not only the process, but the forces that do the killing.
Here are a few other notable points and quotes that stuck out to me in the article.
The report has, deservedly, created worldwide interest and within a few days has monopolized health and medical news worldwide — with some notable exceptions such as the US, where the report has barely been noticed in the media
There are classes in each country. And what has been happening in the world during the past 30 years is the forging of an alliance among the dominant classes of the North and South, an alliance that has promoted neoliberal policies that go against the interests of the dominated classes (the popular classes).
One should never confuse a country’s people with its government. And this is particularly important in the US: 82% of the population believes the Government does not represent their interests, but rather the interests of the economic groups (in the US called corporate class) that dominate the behaviour of the Government.
Class dominance and class alliances existing int he world today are at the root of the problem of poverty.
My comments here, I should note, are not so much a critique of the Commission’s report as a criticism of the WHO — and other such international agencies, for that matter. These agencies always have to reach a consensus, and consensus always gives the most powerful the power of veto. Any conclusion or subject or terminology that may offend the powerful groups seated at the table, who have to approve the report, must be dropped. The Commission’s report goes very far in describing how inequalities are killing people. But we know the names of the killers. We know about the killing, the process by which it occurs and the agents responsible. And we, as public health workers, must denounce not only the whole process, but the forces that do the killing. The WHO will never do that. But as public health workers we can and must do so. It is not enough to define disease as the absence of health. Disease is a social and political category imposed on people within an enormously repressive social and economic capitalist system, one that forces disease and death on the world’s people.