The Audacity of Health 

A debate is raging globally about healthcare. And with millions of lives on the line, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

How much should healthcare cost? Who should pay for it? How is globalization impacting health? Are we ready for an avian influenza pandemic? What needs to be done to address increasing antibiotic resistance?

These are just some of the questions being asked by concerned individuals around the world. From doctors in conflict zones, such as Syria, where lifesaving medicines are increasingly in short supply, to experts in the chambers of the UN General Assembly discussing the growing global burden of non-communicable diseases.

These discussions, and the course of action we subsequently take, will ultimately determine how we, as a species, progress on this planet.

No matter your gender, age, race, or socioeconomic status, is it so radical to demand that you have equal access to quality health services?

We don’t think so.

What we know is that people are mobilizing around the world, demanding their right to health. In India, which recently announced a plan to give free drugs to 1.2 billion people; and the US, where “Obamacare” was a central pillar in the 2012 election. Further, there are organizations, businesses, and individuals the world over taking on the most powerful institutions — including governments and multinational companies — to ensure that universal healthcare is fully realized.

Rights are never given, they’re won. And we must all battle to ensure that everyone attains their right to health.

Some multinational corporations and the special interest groups that represent them continue to put forward policies that weaken health systems and make healthcare so unaffordable that it would push even more people into poverty. A controversial reform act in the UK to the beloved National Health Service puts greater power in the hands of private companies that put their bank balance before the health of the people.

Similarly, the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, Novartis, recently tried and failed — thankfully — to patent a version of its cancer drug Glivec in India, where generic drug manufacturers produce drugs at a fraction of the cost. The decision by the Indian Supreme Court was a victory for patients around the world who will continue to have access to cheap versions of lifesaving medicines.

Unfortunately, and all too often, science is the victim in debates about health. Measles was a disease that was essentially eliminated from the US and most parts of Europe. Today, parents are eschewing advice from pediatricians to immunize their children based on bogus studies
linking vaccines with developmental disorders. Studies estimate that 300,000 people died needlessly in South Africa due to the former Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who promoted beetroot and garlic as an effective treatment for AIDS over scientifically proven antiretroviral drugs.

To effect change, we need to be informed and not mislead by quacks that hide their misguided ideologies behind bad science.

We all have a stake in this battle. And we must remain vigilant so that we can organize and mobilize action when new threats arise.

@atjohnbutler and @brianwahl founded “The Audacity of Health” (@healthyaudacity) collection because we want health professionals, activists, and political leaders from around the world to challenge each other as to how we can collectively do better, reach more people, and save more lives.

Here, you are free to disagree and debate, outline an innovation that is saving lives, or discuss a new threat to people accessing health.

We welcome all views in this collection.

We’ll be writing regularly and reaching out to the most influential names in health, politics, and development to ensure that “The Audacity of Health” helps bend the curve toward a healthy
and fulfilling life for all.

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