Nothing About Us Without Us: Women’s Voices Must Be Heard!

Earlier this month we wrote about the right to universal access to health care in the context of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Yet again this month, women’s health rights are being used as a political football.

The reversal of the Komen Foundation’s decision, in response to public outcry, only amplifies our newest concerns: the voices of affected people must play a role in all policy decisions.

I’m sure you’ve seen the now-infamous photo of an all-male witness panel at the February 17 hearing on contraception and religious freedom, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Democratic minority nominated a woman for this panel—an average woman with experience of the implications of insurance companies denying coverage of birth control. She was denied as a witness by the majority GOP, apparently because she was deemed unqualified to speak to the issue. Two women were witnesses on the second panel, one a female physician.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

I Stand With…the Right to Health

planned parenthoodBefore you keep reading, let’s be clear: this blog is about the universal human right to the highest attainable standard of health, the package of services it takes to be well—and the ability to afford it.  It’s also about the implications of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop providing grants to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for breast cancer screening.  Because too often, women’s health falls victim to agendas that prevent women from exercising their human rights.  It’s about the big picture.

According to Planned Parenthood, the vast majority of its services are the provision of information and education about health, well-being and sexuality; prevention of and response to gender-based violence; prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS; and family planning counseling and supplies. These services are provided to both men and women, of all ages, of all income levels. They are part of basic health care.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Miscarriage of Justice

For continuous updates on human rights in South Asia, follow acharya_dude on twitter.

Binayak Sen being led to court in Chhattisgarh

I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks so I’ve not been able to join the condemnation (until now) of the flawed conviction in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh of Dr. Binayak Sen, a pediatrician and human rights activist, of terrorism charges.  His conviction, if upheld on appeal, will mean a life sentence for a man who has passionately defended the rights of indigenous peoples in his state and has saved the lives of countless children in his medical practice.

Dr. Sen is a recognized human rights activist who has done some amazing work on behalf of the organization called the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).  The PUCL is very much analogous to the ACLU or Amnesty International USA here in the United States and his arrest, imprisonment and now conviction is akin to one of us here in America being arrested for human rights or civil liberties work.  He was convicted of “sedition” and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004.  After being convicted, Dr. Sen was taken into custody and is now considered a Prisoner of Conscience.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Communication Breakdown

Wow, what fabulous news– according to the United Nations, almost 564 million people in India have cell phones.  Sounds great considering how few people had access to telephones 10 years ago.  But, oops, the same study shows that only 366 million people in India have access to any proper sanitation.  So that means that about 200 million more people have telephones than toilets and that three-quarters of a BILLION people in what is supposedly a rising power in the world do not have access to proper sanitation.  It’s not only a no-brainer that the state governments in India (the state government is responsible for health not the central government) need to ensure adequate sanitation for all its citizens, but it’s also a no-brainer that this is a human rights violation.  I’ll just quote from General Comment 14 of the United Nations Economic and Social Council here:

Accessibility also implies that medical services and underlying determinants of health, such as safe and potable water and adequate sanitation facilities, are within safe physical reach, including in rural areas. Accessibility further includes adequate access to buildings for persons with disabilities.

So, I think Led Zeppelin (video above) says it better than I could.  After all, when 200 million more  people can talk on the phone than have a safe place to go to the bathroom, I’d say that India is having “another communication breakdown”.

Giving Life, Risking Death in Burkina Faso

Safiatou (not her real name), 26 years old, married her cousin Hamidou when she was 14. They lived in a village in Burkina Faso, about 100 km south of Ouagadougou, where they farmed livestock. Safiatou had already had four children when she got pregnant again in 2007.
Safiatou’s husband told Amnesty International: “The day of her delivery, she was in good health and worked all afternoon as usual without any problem. She prepared tô [a local dish made from maize flour] for her children and went to get the hay for the animals. In the evening, when her labor began, she left for her mother’s home. Her mother came to warn me that she was not well, that we had to take her to the clinic. I do not have a motorcycle, so I had to go and get one. That made us lose time.” Hamidou added that he “did not know that she should have delivered at the clinic. When I came to fetch her at her mother’s house, she had lost consciousness.”
Hamidou borrowed a small motorcycle from his neighbor, but it didn’t have any fuel. The closest gas station was 10km away. Safiatou ended up delivering at home, but there was placenta retention and serious haemorrhaging. Her husband asked a friend to help him take Safiatou to the local health center, but she passed away on the motorcycle on the way there — 4km away from the facility.
Safiatou left five boys, ages 11, nine, seven and four, and the newborn baby.
The story of Safiatou is one of the 50 cases that Amnesty International’s researchers investigated in-depth for “Giving Life, Risking Death,” the new report on women dying in pregnancy and childbirth in Burkina Faso. The report launched today at an event ??? in Ougadougou.
SUMMARY HERE
Link to page
Link to action
Guardian, Reuters stories
IS will be blogging

Maternal mortality in Burkina Faso Safiatou (not her real name), 26 years old, married her cousin Hamidou when she was 14. They lived in a village in Burkina Faso, about 60 miles south of Ouagadougou, where they farmed livestock. By 2007, the family had four children. Safiatou got pregnant.

Safiatou’s husband told Amnesty International:

The day of her delivery, she was in good health and worked all afternoon as usual without any problem. She prepared tô [a local dish made from maize flour] for her children and went to get the hay for the animals. In the evening, when her labor began, she left for her mother’s home. Her mother came to warn me that she was not well, that we had to take her to the clinic. I do not have a motorcycle, so I had to go and get one. That made us lose time.

Hamidou added that he “did not know that she should have delivered at the clinic. When I came to fetch her at her mother’s house, she had lost consciousness.”

Hamidou borrowed a small motorcycle from his neighbor, but it didn’t have any fuel. The closest gas station was six miles away. Safiatou ended up delivering at home, but she suffered placental retention and serious hemorrhaging. Her husband asked a friend to help him take Safiatou to the local health center, but she passed away on the motorcycle on the way there — two and a half miles away from the facility.

Safiatou left five boys — ages 11, nine, seven and four, and the newborn baby.

The story of Safiatou is one of the 50 cases that Amnesty International’s researchers investigated in-depth for Giving Life, Risking Death, the report released today about women dying in pregnancy and childbirth in Burkina Faso. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Roads to Single-Payer

Commenting on Vienna’s post on universal health care, J writes:

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) does not support single-payer healthcare. They support Obama’s mixed public/private insurance plan.

It’s true that HCAN supports a choice of private or public plans. Which means they don’t support single-payer right away. That doesn’t mean that what they’re proposing won’t lead to single-payer eventually.

Look at HCAN’s list of congressional supporters. It includes Barack Obama (and Joe Biden). But it also includes … John Conyers (who introduced H. R. 676, the single-payer bill Vienna was writing about).

Single-payer advocates who sign on to Obama/HCAN-style mixed public/private plans will have to push for certain key elements to make it into the final legislation, like (for example) a public option (“Medicare for anyone who wants it”) and strong regulation on private insurers prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

For better or for worse, the mixed plans have a lot of momentum right now. The biggest domestic health care event of the week was Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus unveiling his new white paper. He isn’t an HCAN supporter, but  his plan is in the Obama/HCAN vein. Very roughly, it’s Obama plus an individual mandate.

For more healthcare activism, check out Families USA’s Stand Up for Healthcare, including their excellent blog, and long-time single-payer advocates Physicians for a National Health Program, which Lynn Moses Yellott was right to highlight.

What's So Funny About Universal Healthcare?

Yesterday someone emailed me a link to a mock NYT article, National Health Insurance Act Passes.  I’m embarrassed to confess: I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. I believe that universal health care is one of the most important issues of our time, so, for a minute, as I read the first few paragraphs, I was elated. And then I noticed the date: July 4, 2009.

The United States National Health Insurance Act really does exist. Representative John Conyers first introduced the bill (H.R. 676) in 2003. Today there are 93 cosponsors. The bill would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system for all, essentially expanding the U.S. Medicare program.   It would be what is described as a “single payer” system.

Polls show that some sixty-four percent of Americans want the U.S. to adopt universal health insurance. Fifty-four percent support a single payer system, as do 6 in 10 physicians. President-elect Obama has said that he would  consider a single payer health care system if he were designing a system from scratch.

So why does the idea of “Medicare for all” seem so far-fetched?  Is it really on “that’ll never happen” par with Donald Rumsfeld tearfully admitting on ”The View” that ”the whole torture thing wasn’t such a good idea” (as reported in another mock NYT article)?

Are we intimidated by the prospect of confronting a powerful insurance lobby? Is the stumbling block the “socialized medicine” label that opponents are quick to throw around?

I’ll confess one other thing: the article left me feeling energized in a surprising way.  For a moment, I felt what it would be like to learn that Congress had taken a genuinely groundbreaking step to ensure that no one falls between the cracks. That the right to health care would finally be something people enjoy and not just hear about in debates. That 18,000 people wouldn’t die that year because they couldn’t afford care. That hundreds of billions of dollars wouldn’t be diverted from health care to administration while policymakers talk about having to make hard choices about who can be covered. And that hundreds of thousands of people wouldn’t be forced into bankruptcy or homelessness by crushing medical bills.

So what do you think? Can we make universal healthcare a reality in the United States?

Learn more about what activists in the U.S. are doing to bring about universal healthcare:

Healthcare-Now

Health Care for America Now

Sicko

Human Right to Health Care