Rockefeller Foundation

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New global momentum for universal health coverage | 

Editor’s note: I wrote this piece for publication in November’s edition of Al Jazeera Magazine, accessible through downloading on iTunes or other Apple (only) devices. Re-posted here for those, like me, who persist in using PC-based machines. 

Young girl in hospital, Gambia
Young girl in hospital, Gambia
Mike Urban, http://mikeurban.photoshelter.com/

The idea that every person should have access to affordable, basic health care is hardly new, but many believe there is new global momentum toward achieving this worldwide.

While U.S. politicians and pundits squabble over the relatively modest aims of Obamacare, policy makers in nearly every other country have either already adopted a system or embraced the goal of universal health coverage as a critical component of their economic, social and development strategy.

“I would say it is not just feasible, but unavoidable,” said Ariel Pablos-Méndez, a key player in this movement and assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We’re in a fundamentally different place today,” agreed Tim Evans, director of health, nutrition and population at the World Bank.

“The demand for universal health coverage is not coming from advocates or from experts just saying this is a good idea. This is being driven by citizens at the country level, a phenomenon politicians ignore at their peril.” Continue reading

Seattle talk: Philanthro-capitalism and the politics behind the global health agenda | 

On Friday, 3:30-6 pm, UW Health Sciences Hogness Auditorium, historian Anne-Emanuelle Birn gave the Stephen Stewart Gloyd endowed lecture, “Philanthrocapitalism, Cooption and the Politics of Global Health Agenda-Setting.”

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The words “global health” usually conjure images of health workers vaccinating children in Africa, major initiatives aimed at getting anti-HIV drugs or anti-malaria bed nets out to people in poor communities across the globe or any number of other noble efforts aimed at fighting diseases of poverty.

Most don’t think of global health as a means to also advance corporate or political agendas.

Anne-Emanuelle Birn

But Anne-Emanuelle Birn does and on Friday, at a UW symposium, she explained why.

Birn’s a historian who literally wrote the book on global health! (Well, okay, she’s first author on the 3rd edition of it … known as the Textbook of International Health). The popular narrative of global health, she says, is too often a simplistic portrayal of the field as a charitable enterprise largely devoid of political and economic power or social conflict.

“There’s an incredible amount of naivete and lack of knowledge about all this,” said Birn. “To begin with, it’s important to recognize that philanthropy emerged in the United States in the early 20th century as an alternative to the welfare state.”

That’s important, she explained, because it provides a lens through which to evaluate the strategies and choices made by philanthropists to advance their goals. Continue reading