The inside scoop – being a lobbyist for one day
One of the things about being a campaigner is that you’re often on the outside of the big meetings. Campaigners are the ones who do the stunts, hold protests, hand-out fliers and put up posters. We’re often not the ones who lobby ministers and speak to policy advisers in government departments.
But today I got to trade in my jeans and placard for a swanky badge and suit and went inside the United Nations building to the World Health Assembly. My job was a simple one – to get health and development ministers to recommit to delivering health for all.
Health is such a basic right – it seems weird to still have to campaign for this sort of thing. 30 years ago, health ministers from around the world signed an agreement called Alma Ata. This agreement said that health was a right, and that health care should be available to all by the year 2000. Needless to say, this hasn’t been achieved. Instead, we’re half-way towards the deadline for the Millennium Development goals, and some of the health ones are the furthest away from being achieved.
There are three MDGs about health: one about reducing child mortality, one about reducing maternal mortality, and one about fighting HIV and AIDS. The progress on the maternal mortality goal is particularly bad – in some countries maternal mortality has gotten worse. We can’t let the MDGs go the same way as the Alma Ata agreement. We need governments to really put the financial resources and political will into delivering better services.
Because of this, along with Save the Children, World Vision, Action for Global Health and Global Movement for Children, we’re pushing health ministers to reaffirm their commitments of 30 years ago and to sign a statement making action on health a priority for 2008.
So why get Health and Development Ministers to sign this statement? Firstly – to make sure they don’t give up on health for all. It may not have been achieved but under no circumstances should we stop trying. Secondly – to make sure rich countries give more and better aid for health. Only 8 cents in every aid dollar can be spent on building and improving public health services – such as recruiting and training workers. That’s simply not good enough. Thirdly – to make sure developing countries prioritize health for all. Health ministers need to fight to ensure they get the budgets which will allow them to invest in and build good quality health services.
It was a long day – and I’m not sure I’m ready to trade in my placard permanently! But I got to speak to many ministers and their delegations – though I wasn’t always sure which was which! We got really positive responses from many countries, including Zambia, Sweden, Mexico, South Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, Angola, and Senegal. Hopefully this trend will continue and we’ll get every country to sign on by September, when the actual 30-year Alma Ata anniversary takes place.
You can find out more about the work Oxfam is doing on this issue at: www.actnowforhealth.org
The World Health Assembly is happening inside the UN in Geneva.