Over 20 million people die each year due to inequities in global health and more than 100 million people each year are plunged into financial distress as a result of health care-related costs, according to the ICOD Action Network. This is a major contributor in the vicious cycle of poverty and sickness that plagues our world today. In Boston on Oct. 26 — and globally on Oct. 25 — students, leaders, activists and citizens from around the world will convene in major cities in an act of solidarity promoting global health equity by supporting Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states that individuals have the right to a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family … including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
The U.N. originally drafted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in an attempt to begin combating the sources of structural violence and adverse living conditions that threaten both peoples’ well-being and ability to support themselves. These goals set targets for progress on child mortality, HIV/AIDS, maternal health, etc. as ways to combat the rampant inequity, inequality and injustice throughout the world.
Since the 1990s, progress in these categories has been remarkable. For example, global under-five mortality has been cut in half. The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, recently wrote about the impacts on their target markers, finding that “at least 7.5 million children have been ‘saved’ since the launch of the MDGs,” and that “Africa’s progress is matching the rest of the world — for the first time.” These achievements represent unprecedented global gains and also establish a strong correlation between positive change and the creation of MDGs.
In 2015, the U.N. is scheduled to adopt a redrafting of the MDG to update their goals. Exactly what goals they set are up to us. The Global Day of Action on Oct. 25 focuses on the call for universal healthcare. Currently, those who receive health care are those who can afford it. Those who cannot afford it, especially in vulnerable populations, are left sick and unable to take care of basic needs. This is exemplified on the global scale by the deaths of 627,000 people due to malaria and 1.3 million deaths due to tuberculosis in 2012, both preventable diseases. Another 1.5 million children under the age of five died in 2008 from vaccine-preventable diseases. Rights-based universal health coverage would ensure that governments guarantee health care and provide financial protection for these vulnerable groups, ensuring that they get at least the minimum level of care needed to function. Nobody should be denied care because they cannot afford it or because they do not have access.
Within the U.S. healthcare system today, healthcare coverage is not guaranteed for all citizens and will not provide full coverage without a gradual consolidation of America’s healthcare organizations into a single, cost-effective entity. This idea is referred to as “single-payer healthcare,” in which thousands of healthcare groups across the United States would be restructured and integrated to form a government-run entity that would act as the single healthcare fee collector and billing agency for the entire health industry. This reconstruction of the U.S. healthcare industry would enhance its overall efficacy, providing universal coverage and all-inclusive medical benefits to each patient while creating a system based on need, instead of on each patient’s individual ability to pay. According to Healthcare-Now, not only would a single-payer billing system cover all essential services including “rehabilitative, long-term and home care; mental healthcare, prescription drugs and medical supplies,” but it would also systematically diminish the disparities in health outcomes that plague U.S. society. Article 25 seeks to provide universal coverage and medical care for individuals based on need. With the implementation of the single-payer system, more of these goals could be realized for the American public.
We, as students fighting for social justice, have a unique opportunity to see unprecedented levels of health equity arise within our lifetimes. According to an article written in The Lancet, our generation collectively has the “financial and ever-improving technical capacity … to achieve a ‘grand convergence’ in health” by 2035. The first step toward making this goal is to ensure that receiving care is not dependent on wealth and location. As the next generation of leaders, policy makers and activists, we have a responsibility to change this archaic and ill-serving system. We hope to see you on the Boston Common on Oct. 26 to join in the voices of the world in demanding that everyone be given the right to be healthy.