We Need a Global Struggle for Health

Federico Tomasone

When, if not today?

It was only a matter of time, epidemiologists warned, referring to the explosion of pandemics. And now we are in eye of the storm. Half of humanity is in lockdown, trying to contain the contagion and reduce the numbers of severe cases and death rates. COVID-19’s arrival in the West has exposed the fragility and deterioration of our healthcare systems, but the pandemic merely accelerated and exacerbated a situation caused by the ongoing attempt to commodify the health care sector pushed by neoliberal ruling classes worldwide.

Now, under the weight of this storm, the masses everywhere are tragically rediscovering not only how crucial healthcare systems and public health are, but also that health is a terrain of struggle in our societies. Cuts to hospital personnel and budgets and the erosion of healthcare quality in the name of austerity is the bloody price the popular classes are paying. 

The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s Brussels Office published a brochure back in 2018 addressing health as a global struggle. In a little under 50 pages, the publication gives an overview of the current global governance of health and underlines the relevance of health’s social determination. Addressing the privatization of healthcare systems, it outlines some elements of reflection on the organization of struggles for health. This publications “stands as a Luxemburgian manifesto for health”, as written in a review of the brochure made by the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

What makes this observation particularly true is the insight that “health systems are therefore constructed through the interplay of social forces, shaped by historical changes in power relations in society, and hence in a state of constant evolution”, as noted in the introduction. Class relations and struggles are the terrain on which health systems are historically produced, and it is in this perspective that the social determinant—the socioeconomic conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, and age—are extensively examined over a chapter of the publication.

What does it mean today, during this COVID-19 pandemic? It means that the clapping for hospital workers at 20:00 should not be a lionization of heroes dying on the front lines, as the warlike rhetoric of the ruling class implies. Rather, it should be loud support for the rising healthcare workers’ struggles across Europe. It means that supporting  the people on strike who refuse to put their lives in danger for profits is a collective health struggle. It means that the demand for decent and affordable housing is a collective health struggle. It means that reshaping society around the solidarity of the many and not the profits of the few is the way to build the strongest collective healthcare system.    

Since 1950, 7 April is celebrated as World Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization. Today, 70 years on, the occasion also should serve as a call to mobilize and organize with many others for the kinds of political demands our health requires.

Federico Tomasone works as a Project Manager at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s Regional Office in Brussels.

Publication: The Struggle of Health