“Health Is A Political Choice”

PSI Health Officer, Baba Aye, reports from the opening session of the WHO Executive Board meeting

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus observed that political will is what informs the commitment of any government to the provision of quality health and reduction of health inequities. This was at the opening session of the 146th meeting of the WHO Executive Board, which commenced in Geneva on Monday.

Dr Tedros further expressed the view that governments appear to be taking note of this, with progress being recorded towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in a number of countries, and the high-level meetings of the United Nations General Assembly on health-related matters last year.

The Director General also called on governments to do more, particularly for preventing diseases and promoting the health and wellness of women, men and children. He thus urged all countries to increase their funding of primary health care (PHC) by at least 1% of GDP.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus WHO Executive Director

For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect.

Public Services International has always highlighted the fact that political choices and decisions are at the heart of the policy process. Thus, trade unions must take action to influence the decision-making process locally, nationally and global, in the interest of working people. This is now even more important than ever. Corporations are doing their utmost to influence public policy and governance for the aim of maximizing profit, even at the detriment of the people. And they do this, by any means they can, indeed by hook or by crook.

PSI defends public services, including public health, all over the world. Building inclusive and more just societies requires people being put over profit. This is possible only when quality public services – healthcare, education, energy, public utilities, etc - are made available for all.

We represent the organised heath workforce of the world on WHO governance bodies, as the sole trade union body in official relations with the WHO. A PSI delegation is participating in the 146th session of the WHO EB. This comprises leaders of PSI affiliates from Asia, Europe and South America.

Our delegates will speak out for workers on several items of the agenda and wholeheartedly stand up for universal public health care. Some of the issues that will be discussed at the meeting are; public health care, universal health coverage, global vaccine action plan, elimination of cervical cancer, elimination of tuberculosis, epilepsy, neglected tropical diseases, public health emergencies, polio eradication, food safety and digitalisation of health care delivery.

These topics are grouped into four pillars on the agenda: one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage; one billion more people better protected from health emergencies; one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being, and; more effective and efficient WHO providing better support to countries.

What's the WHO Executive Board and why is PSI Present?

The WHO Executive Board is held twice a year to bring to implement decisions and policies of the Health Assembly. As the only Global Trade Union body with WHO consultative status, PSI monitors developments and represents the voice of health sector workers at these forums.

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WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHIEC) last Thursday. Thus, global attention will be focussed on the meeting’s discussion of public health emergencies. Dr Ghebreyesus has however pointed out a greater danger.

The world, he said, might be “dangerously unprepared” for the next outbreak of a global epidemic. The reason for this is that “for too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect”. He thus called for investment in crisis preparedness.

As we earlier pointed out, crisis preparedness requires well-funded, strong public health systems. Governments have to fully back their political statements of commitment to health for all with practical actions including; adequate funding of public health, empowerment of communities, and social dialogue with health trade unions – all aimed at achieving universal public health care. The safety and security of health workers who are always at the frontlines of public health emergencies must also be given topmost priority by governments across the world.