Our health isn’t up for sale!

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Commercialisation is having an impact on health care systems everywhere in Europe. Numerous reforms carried out from the end of the 1970s have allowed access by commercial operators aiming to make a profit and thus progressively changing the complex dynamics of health care systems.

By Sebastian Franco
European Network against Health commercialisation

Since then, the onset of the crisis in 2008 and the policies of budgetary austerity that followed have weakened even further the public basis for health care that was founded on solidarity.

Today, the economic and commercial policies of the European Union, in particular negotiations surrounding TTIP, CETA and TiSA, demonstrate a clear intention to open up the “health care market” to global competition.

The crisis in 2008 and the consequences

The shock doctrine put forward by Naomi Klein in 2008, provides a sound illustration of what has happened in countries in Southern Europe (and in Ireland) in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. Confronted with major economic problems (budget deficits), reforms have been introduced under the supervision of European institutions (Troika). In return for ready cash to balance the public books, countries saw themselves forced to cut government budgets, thus having a considerable impact on health care systems and their beneficiaries: certain categories of people were excluded, privatisation and consolidation, cuts in the salaries of health care professionals, reduction in reimbursements, etc. These reforms are reminiscent of the structural reforms imposed just about everywhere in the countries of the southern hemisphere by the IMF in the 1980s.

The situation is a bit different in countries that are less severely affected by the crisis in government budgets and consequently by budget cuts. But ongoing austerity has and will have similar effects on social systems.

There is widespread resistance in the face of this underlying trend towards commercialisation of healthcare. There is therefore much at stake in strengthening coordination between these protest movements. Planning policies with a unified approach and also the tools to help to establish this network will be a key task in the coming years.

At the heart of the struggle for healthcare is the issue of democracy

While health is considered as a fundamental individual human right, it is far more than that. Health is an essential requirement both for us to flourish as individuals but also for us to participate actively in society.

Choices when it comes to health – the definition of needs and the best way to respond to them – thus give rise to democratic choices which must conflict with the choices of private companies (expensive, encouraging overconsumption, inegalitarian) and with social agenda that they present.

Involving large sections of society in defending public health based on solidarity would strengthen the impact of existing campaigns. What is more, campaigns for healthcare have the advantage of attracting the sympathy of wide swathes of society. This is an important element to count on.

In practical terms, this implies working, during specific campaigns, to create alliances and to expand the campaigns to sectors that are interested in defending access to healthcare overall. This strategy has proved effective in Spain with the rallies by Mareas Blancas forming an alliance between healthcare professionals, trade unionists, consumers and citizens in order to defend public healthcare for everyone. These alliances should be focus of particular attention.

What is more, health is closely related to our environment, to our educational level and also to our material circumstances. What are termed the social determinants of health go a long way in explaining a population’s level of health, more than the healthcare system itself.

This reality requires us to plan our campaigns for health in all their aspects: protecting the health of everyone also means protecting the planet against the damage that threatens it but also defending social justice for all. It is in itself a project for social change!

Rebuild coordinated resistance on the local level

The globalisation of economic dynamics – and its rationale of privatisation and commodification of all realms of society – has substantially lessened the impact of traditional resistance movements and their political resources. Our actions must adapt to this new reality.

Rebuilding connections - spaces to meet and hold debates, joint actions – among all the sectors suffering from the effects of the same global dynamics on the local level, where meetings involving organisations, groups and individuals are easier, can prove to be very productive.

However the local and regional aspect is not enough. Links with other more distant realities are equally essential. Today, new tools make it easier to establish these connections.

A European day of action against the commercialisation of health

On 7th April, on World Health Day, activities and protests condemning the commercialisation and privatisation of health took place in various European towns (around twenty in four countries: Belgium, France, Spain and Italy).
A European conference with representatives from various countries and a protest held outside the European institutions also took place in Brussels.

This first European day of action marked the launch of a movement which will rally, or so we hope, all those involved in healthcare against the commodification of this sector every 7 April in ever-growing numbers.

The European network against privatisation and commercialisation of healthcare and social welfare was the organisor of this day of action but it was able to rely on the collaboration and active participation by the European Public Services Union (EPSU), the People’s Health Movement and the Alter Summit.

This day was therefore a first major step in rallying and bringing together those involved in healthcare, and, more broadly, in collective action.

This day was also an opportunity to launch a website with the goal of collecting information and evidence about the real situation regarding commercialisation in Europe. This collaborative site (people can post information on it) will serve not only to demonstrate the reality of commercialisation but also to show the resistance it gives rise to.

The programme for the 2017 day of action is now in the planning stages. We invite all organisations, groups and individuals to help organise and participate in the rallies and activities throughout Europe next year on 7 April.

Contact: sebastian.franco@sante-solidarite.be