Put “Our Planet, Our Health” Before Profit: Fund Universal Access to Health & Quality Public Services

World Health Day (WHD) has been commemorated on 7th April since 1950. The World Health Organization (WHO) utilizes the day to draw attention to public health issues with its chosen theme. In recent years, trade unions and activists have also utilized the day to campaign against  the commodification and marketization of health.

The theme of this year’s WHD, “Our Planet, Our Health,” is quite apt. The health and wellbeing of billions of people and the Earth are in peril.

More than six million people have died from COVID-19, social inequalities increased drastically during the pandemic – 160 million more people were pushed into poverty in 2021, the climate and environmental crises is deepening and we must halve emissions by 2030, and wars continue to claim people’s lives and disrupt social life in different parts of the world, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and more recently Ukraine. 

We need to take decisive action to safeguard our health and the planet. This means that we must tackle the root causes of our problems. The perilous situation of the world today is the consequence of decades of neoliberal policies and the fact that the same logic has permeated the pandemic response. This must stop; world leaders must be made to demonstrate a concrete commitment to “our planet, our health”.

This would require putting our health before the wealth of a handful of corporations and billionaires by:

  • - Stopping commercialization and privatization of healthcare. Our health is not for sale - the right to health is a fundamental human right. This right can be realized for all, only with public funding and delivery of health and care.

  • - Ensuring that health workers, who enjoy decent work as of right, are available to all. This requires the intensive recruitment, training, equipping, and adequate remuneration of health and care workers to address the global shortage of upwards of 18 million workers in the sector.

  • -  The suspension of patents on medications, vaccines, and equipment needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of people. World leaders, scientists, and opinion leaders must draw inspiration from Jonas Salk that such patents, like the sun, belong to the people.

Thus, we reject the current compromise apology of a TRIPS waiver, and demand full TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and the inclusion of an automatic trigger of the suspension of patents on pandemic response products, when a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHIEC) is declared.

  • - Reform of the global finance architecture and tax system to ensure the availability of resources for low- and middle-income countries to provide universal public health care. We cannot safeguard “Our People” and “Our Health” when $427 billion, an amount that would pay the salaries of 34 million nurses, is lost in tax is lost in corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion each year. International finance institutions must also stop constricting the fiscal policy space of countries with liberalizing conditionalities.

  • - Building a radical new economy beyond the constriction of fundamentalist marketization. This requires decisive rapid action and a strategic thrust that can ensure we halt the climate and environmental crises and a more just and inclusive world.

This is possible, as the early moment of the current pandemic shows us. But, beyond rhetoric, world leaders have reverted to a “business as usual” mentality, as demonstrated by vaccine nationalism and support for biopharmaceutical corporations over universal access to COVID-19 technology and medications.

The nascent negotiations process for a pandemic treaty might be a silver lining in the clouds. But governments must be bold in making far-reaching decisions that break from the neoliberal commonsense in this process. And the treaty process must itself be part of broader all-of-society steps to put people and the planet before profit. Another world is still possible, where “Our Planet, Our Health” will flourish. We need to start making that world together now.