Speaking Out for Maternal Health in San Francisco

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This post is by Cecilia Lipp, AIUSA San Francisco Organizing City Activist Leader.

L-R: Larry Cox of Amnesty International USA, Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, and Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso

L-R: Larry Cox of Amnesty International USA, Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, and Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso

San Francisco hosted AIUSA’s maternal health speakers tour at the San Francisco Public Library Wednesday night. Amnesty International executive directors from Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Peru and the United States presented the findings of AI’s reports on maternal health in their respective countries, and outlined their campaigns to make every birth safe.

The panel discussion, moderated by Diana Campoamor, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, took us through from the international to the local level. The statistics at every level are shocking. But what stays with me most are the stories of individual women denied access to lifesaving health care.

L-R: Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, Sameer Dossani of Amnesty International USA, and Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

L-R: Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, Sameer Dossani of Amnesty International USA, and Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

Maddy Oden, founder of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, shared the intimate story of the loss of her daughter, Tatia, after an induced labor at a respected San Francisco Bay Area hospital. Tatia’s daughter Zorah passed away as well. Before speaking, Maddy lit a candle to honor the spirits of the women who have died while giving life.

In a room filled with midwives, local elected officials, our local human rights organizations and people who are all parents and children, it was so important for us to be brought back to the fact that the issue of maternal mortality is not just a question of abstract statistics or lofty human rights ideals. This is a concrete, flesh-and-blood issue that affects every person in the room, and the inspiration for this work lies in the fact that this is a crisis we can fight! These deaths, like Tatia’s, are unnecessary and preventable, especially in the United States, where geography and infrastructure do not pose a problem in the way that it might in rural Burkina Faso.

L: Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

L: Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

We looked at solutions in our community, such as the bill for single-payer health care in California championed by Senator Mark Leno, supported by partner organizations including OneCare California. We, as a community, can also look to support education solutions that the Tatia Oden French Foundation proposes including increasing women’s awareness of their rights within the health care system, including the right to refusal. It’s imperative for our community to ensure that all women get everything they need to be fully informed participants in their care.

This event was a call to action: to come together in solidarity with one another and protect the life of every woman in our global community who chooses to give birth. Let us make sure every woman knows her rights, let us hold the medical community accountable (not culpable, but responsible), let us support the practice of midwives and doulas to support women in birth, let us ensure that women are visited by doctors and community members before, during and after their birth.

L-R: Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation (hidden), Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone

L-R: Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation (hidden), Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone

We have our work cut out for us, but I became convinced this week that we can make this change in our community here in San Francisco. Could you do the same thing in your community? Will you work for a crucial national solution — an Office of Maternal Health? I will remember the life of Tatia Oden French and the other women just like her who die every day within the United States alone. Let us stand together in solidarity and transform this unnecessary and heartbreaking reality.

Maternal health is a human right. Motherhood and birth deserve dignity, so let us demand dignity for ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, our partners.

The Human Right to Health Care in Vermont

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Rally at the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

Rally at the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

Communities across the country are demanding the human right to health care, while Congress is tweaking its latest version of health insurance legislation that continues to treat health care as a commodity.

This unacceptable discrepancy between public will and corporate power in Washington, DC, is being challenged by state-based campaigns for the human right to health care. Activists in states such as California and Vermont have their eyes on a prize much grander than anything Congress is willing to consider: single payer health care at state level. So it’s no coincidence that it is Vermont’s U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) who seeks to change the health bill under discussion in the U.S. Senate by introducing an amendment that would make it easier for states to go it alone and implement a Medicare-for-All, publicly financed health care system in their state.

Vermont is ready for it, and activists think they could even manage without such federal assistance. Over the past few months, the Vermont Workers’ Center’s campaign has organized a series of People’s Forums across the state with the involvement of over 70 state legislators and more than 800 Vermonters. Participants affirmed the importance of establishing a universal, equitable and accountable healthcare system in Vermont. Bekah Mandell, a forum facilitator and campaign activist, summarizes their mood: “Ordinary Vermonters will continue to put pressure on their elected representatives until we win this fundamental human right. It is clear to us, now, that we can win, and we will win.”

On January 6, the first working day of the 2010 legislative session, the Vermont Workers’ Center will deliver thousands of signed postcards demanding health care as a human right. The legislative leadership announced at a recent People’s Forum that hearings on a single payer bill will begin on January 12. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Dollars and cents of new health care legislation

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Patients not profitWhile protesters have been occupying House Speaker Pelosi’s office, demanding a health care system that serves “Patients not Profit”, the House of Representatives is preparing to vote on the market-based health care bill introduced last week by Speaker Pelosi. It is not expected that the House leadership will allow a lengthy floor discussion, but the most recent news reports suggest that the promised vote on Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) single payer amendment may be allowed. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi has presented the leadership’s additions to the bill in a so-called Manager’s Amendment, stating that this would strengthen provisions for “excluding insurers who put profits over patients from an affordable marketplace that will serve tens of millions of Americans.”

Does that mean the protesters demands have been met? Is this health care bill bringing us closer to realizing our human right to health care? Let’s recall that according to international legal standards, the human right to health requires that “health facilities, goods and services must be affordable for all. Payment for health-care services…has to be based on the principle of equity.”

The House bill aims to achieve affordability by subsidizing the purchase of an insurance policy for those earning between 150% and 400% of the federal poverty level, provided they don’t have employer-based insurance. In practice, this means someone with an income at the upper end of this scale would pay $5300 a year in premiums and up to $2000 a year in cost-sharing, amounting to around 17% of their income. At the bottom end of the scale, health care costs would be around 6-7% of a person’s income – which is still higher than a general income tax increase proposed by single payer health insurance bills.  Many immigrants would get no support at all, and anyone unable to afford such an insurance plan would be subject to a penalty payment, since everyone will be mandated to purchase insurance.   SEE THE REST OF THIS POST