Célia Landmann Szwarcwald, Maria do Carmo Leal, Wanessa da Silva de Almeida, Mauricio Lima Barreto, Paulo Germano de Frias, Mariza Miranda Theme Filha, Rosa Maria Soares Madeira Domingues, Elisabeth Barboza Franca, Silvana Granado Nogueira da Gama, Cristiano Sigueira Boccolini, and Cesar Victora
Child health has been placed at the forefront of international initiatives for development. The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals has propelled worldwide actions to improve maternal and child health. In the course of the year 2000, the Latin American (LA) countries made marked progress in implementing effective newborn and infant life-saving interventions. Under-five mortality in LA fell by a third between 1990 and 2015, with a sharp decline in diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections. Due to the successful immunization programs in the region, some vaccine-preventable diseases have been eliminated. Many of the LA countries have reached nearly universal coverage of childbirths attended by skilled personnel and >80% coverage for antenatal care. In 2015, 18 countries in the region reported the elimination of mother-to-child transmission for both HIV and syphilis.
Although the advances in the public agenda aimed at promoting child health and development in Latin American countries are undeniable, unresolved issues remain. While many stillbirths and neonatal deaths could be averted by improving access to antenatal, intra-partum, and postnatal interventions, Latin America has the highest cesarean rate among all regions of the world with an excessive number of such operations without medical indications. The simultaneous lack and excess of cesarean deliveries in LA countries reflects a model of care that excludes a considerable portion of the population and reveals the persistent gaps and inequalities in the region. One of the main challenges to be faced is the lack of sustainable financing mechanisms to provide integrated and high-quality health care to all children, equal education opportunities, and social services to support disadvantaged families. When planning interventions, equity should be restored as the guiding principle of actions to ensure inclusion and social justice. Children represent the future of society in Latin America and elsewhere. For this reason, social commitment to provide universal child health is the genesis of sustainable development and must be an absolute priority.
Concerns about water affordability have centered on access to networked services in low-income countries, but have grown in high-income countries as water, sewer, and stormwater tariffs, which fund replacement of aging infrastructure and management of demand, have risen. The political context includes a UN-recognized human right to water and a set of Sustainable Development Goals that explicitly reference affordable services in water, sanitation, and other sectors. Affordability has traditionally been measured as the ratio of combined water and sewer bills divided by total income or expenditures. Subjective decisions are then made about what constitutes an “affordable” ratio, and the fraction paying more than this is calculated. This measurement approach typically omits the coping costs associated with poor supply, notably the time costs of carrying water home. Three less commonly used approaches include calculating (a) the expenditure related to procuring a “lifeline” quantity of water as a percent of income or expenditures, (b) the amount of income left for other needs after water and sewer expenditures are subtracted, and (c) the number of hours of minimum wage work needed to purchase an essential quantity of water.
Lowering water rates for all customers does not necessarily help those in need in low- and middle-income countries. This includes tariff structures that subsidize the price of water in the lowest block or tier (i.e., lifeline blocks) for all customers, not just the poor. Affordability programs that do not operate through tariffs can be characterized by (a) how they are administered and funded, (b) how they target the poor, and (c) how they deliver subsidies to the poor. Common types of delivery mechanisms include subsidizing public taps for unconnected households, subsidizing or financing the fees associated with obtaining a connection to the piped network, and subsidizing monthly bills for poor households. Means-tested consumption subsidies are most common in industrialized countries, whereas subsidizing public taps and connection fees are more common in low- and middle-income countries.
A final challenge is directing subsidies to renters who are more likely to be poor and who do not have a direct relationship with a water utility because they pay for water through their landlord, either included as part of their rent or as a separate water payment. Based on data from the 2013 American Housing Survey, approximately 21% of all housing units in the United States are occupied by this type of “hard to reach” customer, although not all of them would be considered poor or eligible for an assistance program. This ratio is as high as 74% of all housing units in metropolitan areas like New York City. Because of data limitations, there are no similar estimates in low-income countries.
Instead of sector-by-sector affordability policies, governments might do better to think about the entire package of services a poor person has a perceived right to consume. Direct income support, calculated to cover a package of basic services, could then be delivered to the poor, preserving their autonomy to make spending decisions and preserving the appropriate signals about resource scarcity.
Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvao, Volney Câmara, and Daniel Buss
The relationship between environment and health is part of the history of medicine and has always been important to any study of human health and to public-health interventions. In Latin America many health improvements are related to environmental interventions, such as the provision of better water and sanitation services. Latin America’s development, industrialization, and sweeping urbanization have brought many improvements to the well-being of its populations; they have also inaugurated new societies, with new patterns of consumption. The region’s basic environmental-health interventions have needed to be updated and upgraded to include disciplines such as toxicology, environmental epidemiology, environmental engineering, and many others. Multidisciplinary and inter-sector approaches are paramount to understanding new profiles of health and well-being, and to promoting effective public-health interventions.
The new social, economic, labor, and consumption aspects of modern Latin American society have become more and more relevant to understanding the complex interactions in the region’s social, biological, and physical environment, which are essential to explaining some of the emerging and re-emerging public-health problems. Environmental health, as concept and as intervention, is simple and easily understood, but no longer sufficient to achieve the levels of health and well-being expected and required by these new realities. Many global changes such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and mass migrations has been identified as main cause of ill health and are at the center of the sustainable development challenges in general, and many are critical and specific public health. To face this development, other frameworks have emerged, such as planetary health and environmental and social determinants of health. Public health remains central to some, such as the improved environmental-health agenda, while others assign public health a relative position in a variety of overarching frameworks.
Catherine A. O'Donnell
Migration is a reality of today’s world, with over one billion migrants worldwide. While many choose to move voluntarily, others are forced to migrate due to economic reasons or to flee war, conflict, or persecution. Such migrants often find themselves in precarious and marginalized situations—particularly asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented or irregular migrants. While often viewed as a single group, the legal status and entitlements of these three groups are different. This has implications for their ability to access health care; in addition, rights and entitlements vary across the 28 countries of the European Union and across different parts of national health systems. The lack of entitlement to receive care, including primary and secondary care, is a significant barrier for many asylum seekers and refugees and an even greater barrier for undocumented migrants. Other barriers include different health profiles and awareness of chronic disease risk amongst migrants; awareness of the organization of health systems in host countries; and language and communication. The use of professional interpreters can help to overcome communication barriers, but entitlement to free interpreting services is highly variable. Host countries need to consider how to ensure their health systems are “migrant-friendly”: solutions include provision of professional interpreters; ensuring that health care staff are aware of migrants’ rights to access health care; and increasing knowledge of migrants in relation to the organization of the health care system in their host country and how to access care, for example through the use of patient navigators. However, perhaps one of the greatest facilitators for migrants will be a more favorable political situation, which stops demonizing people who are forced to migrate due to situations out of their control.
Paulo Buss and Sebastián Tobar
The construction of the concepts of diplomacy and health diplomacy must consider their conceptions and practices, at both the global and regional levels. Health diplomacy is vitally important in a global context, where health problems cross national borders and more new stakeholders appear every day, both within and outside the health sector. On the other hand, regional integration processes provide excellent opportunities for collective actions and solutions to many of the health challenges at the global level. In the current global context, the best conditions for dealing with many health challenges are found at the global level, but the regional and subregional spheres also play essential roles.
The region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) consists of 26 countries or territories that occupy a territory of 7,412,000 square miles—almost 13% of the Earth’s land surface area; it extends from Mexico to Patagonia, where about 621 million people live (as of 2015), distributed among different ethnic groups. Geographically, it is divided into Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, but it presents subregions with populations and cultures that are a little more homogenous, like the subregions of the Andes and the English Caribbean. By its characteristics, LAC has acquired increasing global political and economic importance.
In the 1960s, integration processes began in the region, including the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Mercosur, the Andean Community, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Central American System, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), the Sistema Económico Latinoamericano y del Caribe (SELA), the Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración (ALADI), and finally, since 2010, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños, or CELAC), which is the most comprehensive integrative organization.
While originally a mechanism for political and economic integration, health is now an important component of all the abovementioned integration processes, with growing social, political, and economic importance in each country and in the region, currently integrating the most important regional and global negotiations.
Joint protection against endemic diseases and epidemics, as well as noncommunicable diseases, coordination of border health care, joint action on the international scene (particularly in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and its main agencies), and the sectoral economic importance of health are among the main situations and initiatives related to health diplomacy in these integration processes.
The effectiveness of integration actions—and health within those actions—varies according to the political orientations of the national governments in each conjuncture, amplifying or reducing the spectrum of activities performed. The complexity of both the present and future of this rich political process of regional health diplomacy is also very important for global health governance (GHG).
Juan Garay, David Chiriboga, Nefer Kelley, and Adam Garay
There is one common health objective among all nations, as stated in the constitution of the World Health Organization in 1947: progress towards the best feasible level of health for all people. This goal captures the concept of health equity: fair distribution of unequal health. However, 70 years later, this common global objective has never been measured. Most of the available literature focuses on measuring health inequalities, not inequities, and compare health indicators (mainly access to health services) among population subgroups.
A method is hereby proposed to identify standards for the best feasible levels of health through criteria of healthy, replicable, and sustainable (HRS) models. Once the HRS model countries were identified, adjusted mortality rates were applied to age- and sex-specific populations from 1950 to 2015, by calculating the net difference between the observed and expected mortality, using the HRS countries as the standard. This difference in mortality represents the net burden of health inequity (NBHiE), measured in avoidable deaths. This burden is due to global health inequity, that is, unfair inequality, due to social injustice. We then calculated the relative burden of health inequity (RBHiE), which is the proportion of NBHiE compared with all deaths. The analysis identified some 17 million avoidable deaths annually, representing around one-third of all deaths during the 2010–2015 period. This avoidable death toll (NBHiE) and proportion (RBHiE) have not changed much since the 1970s. Younger age groups and women are affected the most. When data were analyzed using smaller sample units (such as provinces, states, counties, or municipalities) in some countries, the sensitivity was increased and could detect higher levels of burden of health inequity.
Most of the burden of health inequity takes place in countries with levels of income per capita below the average of the HRS countries, which we call the “dignity threshold.” Based on this threshold, a distribution of the world’s resources compatible with the universal right to health—the “equity curve”—is estimated. The equity curve would hypothetically be between this dignity threshold and a symmetric upper threshold around the world’s average per capita GDP. Such excess income prevents equitable distribution is correlated with a carbon footprint leading to >1.5º global warming (thus undermining the health of coming generations), and does not translate to better health or well-being. This upper threshold is defined as the “excess accumulation threshold.”
The international redistribution required to enable all nations to have at least an average per capita income above the dignity threshold would be around 8% of the global GDP, much higher than the present levels of international cooperation. At subnational levels, the burden of health inequity can be the most sensitive barometer of socioeconomic justice between territories and their populations, informing and directing fiscal and territorial equity schemes and enabling all people within and between nations to enjoy the universal right to health.
HRS models can also inspire lifestyles, and political and economic frameworks of ethical well-being, without undermining the rights of others in present and future generations.
Kira Fortune, Francisco Becerra, Paulo Buss, Orielle Solar, Patricia Ribeiro, and Gabriela E. Keahon
There is a broad consensus that the health of an individual or population is not influenced solely by the efforts of the formal health sector; rather, it is also defined by the conditions of daily life as well as the inputs, intentional or not, of various stakeholders and policies. The recognition that health outcomes and inequity in health extend beyond the health sector across many social and government sectors has led to the emergence of a comprehensive policy perspective known as Health in All Policies (HiAP). Building on earlier concepts and principles outlined in the Alma-Ata Declaration (1978) and the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986), HiAP is a collaborative approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts in order to improve population health and health equity. Health in All Policies has become particularly relevant in light of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as achieving the goals of the agenda requires policy coherence and collaboration across sectors. Given that local governments are ideally positioned to encourage and galvanize partnerships between a diversity of local stakeholders, the implementation of HiAP at the local level is seen as a powerful approach to advancing health and achieving the SDGs through scaled-up initiatives. As there is no single model for the development and implementation of HiAP, it is critical to examine the different experiences across countries that have garnered success in order to identify best practices. The Region of the Americas has made much progress in advancing the HiAP approach, and as such much can be learned from analyzing implementation at country level thus far. Specific initiatives of the Americas may highlight key examples of local action for HiAP and should be taken into consideration for future implementation. Moving forward, it will be important to consider bottom up approaches that directly address the wider determinants of health and health equity.
Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella
Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State.
Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other.
The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.
Marcos Cueto and Steven Palmer
From the late 19th to the late 20th century, Latin America was a developing region of the world in which public and private health discourses, practices, and a network of agencies were consolidated. Many organizations appeared as a response to pandemics, such as yellow fever, that attacked the main ports and cities, and they interacted with global agencies such as the Rockefeller Foundation. Frequently, single-disease-focused and technocratic approaches were promoted in a pattern that can be defined as the “culture of survival.” However, some practitioners believed in public health programs as a tool to improve the living conditions of the poor, the most important being comprehensive primary health care, which emerged in the late 1970s. Toward the end of the Cold War (ca. 1980s), neo-liberal reformers supported a restrictive idea of primary care health that overemphasized cost-effectiveness and efficiency.
NGO Contributions to Community Health and Primary Health Care: Case Studies on BRAC (Bangladesh) and the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, Jamkhed (India)
A. Mushtaque R. Chowdhury and Henry B. Perry
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in developing countries are chiefly a post-World War II phenomenon. Though they have made important contributions to health and development among impoverished people throughout the world, the documentation of these contributions has been limited. Even though BRAC and the Jamkhed Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) are but two of 9.7 million NGOs registered around the world, they are unique. Established in 1972 in Bangladesh, BRAC is now the largest NGO in the world in terms of population served—now reaching 130 million people in 11 different countries. Its programs are multi-sectoral but focus on empowering women and improving the health of mothers and children. Through its unique scheme of generating income through its own social enterprises, BRAC is able to cover 85% of its $1 billion budget from self-generated funds. This innovative approach to funding has enabled BRAC to grow and to sustain that growth as its social enterprises have also prospered. The Jamkhed CRHP, founded in 1970 and located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is notable for its remarkable national and global influence. It is one of the world’s early examples of empowering communities to address their health problems and the social determinants of those problems, in part by training illiterate women to serve as community health workers. The Jamkhed CRHP served as a major influence on the vision of primary health care that emerged at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. Its Institute for Training and Research in Community Health and Population has provided on-site training in community health for 45,000 people from 100 different countries. The book written by the founders entitled Jamkhed: A Comprehensive Rural Health Project, describing its pioneering approach, has been translated into five languages beyond English and is one of the most widely read books on global health. These two exemplary NGOs provide a glimpse of the breadth and depth of NGO contributions to improving the health and well-being of impoverished people throughout the world.
Street science is the processes used by community residents to understand, document, and take action to address the environmental health issues they are experiencing. Street science is an increasingly essential process in global urban health, as more and more people live in complex environments where physical and social inequalities create cumulative disease burdens. Street science builds on a long tradition of critical public health that values local knowledge, participatory action research, and community-driven science, sometimes referred to as “citizen science.” Street scientists often partner with professional scientists, but science from the street does not necessarily fit into professional models, variables or other standards of positivist data. Street science is not one method, but rather an approach where residents are equally expert as professional scientists, and together they co-produce evidence for action. In this way, street science challenges conventional notions in global health and urban planning, which tend to divorce technical issues from their social setting and discourage a plurality of participants from engaging in everything from problem setting to decision-making. Street science does not romanticize local or community knowledge as always more accurate or superior to other ways of knowing and doing, but it also recognizes that local knowledge acts as an oppositional discourse that gives voice to the often silent suffering of disadvantaged people. At its best, street science can offer a framework for a new urban health science that incorporates community knowledge and expertise to ensure our cities and communities promote what is already working, confront the inequities experienced by the poor and vulnerable, and use this evidence to transform the physical and social conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.
David Sanders and Louis Reynolds
The global project to achieve Health for All through Primary Health Care (PHC) is a profoundly political one. In seeking to address both universal access to health care and the social determinants of health (SDH) it challenges power blocs which have material vested interests in technical approaches to health and development.
The forces that have shaped PHC include Community Oriented Primary Care and the Health Centre Movement, the “basic health services approach,” and nongovernmental and national initiatives that exemplified comprehensive and participatory approaches to health development. The 1978 Alma-Ata Declaration codified these experiences and advocated Health for All by the year 2000 through PHC. It emphasized equitable and appropriate community and primary-level health care as well as intersectoral actions and community participation to address the social and environmental determinants of health. This would need the support of a new international economic order.
The concept of “Selective Primary Health Care” emerged soon after Alma-Ata, privileging a limited set of technical interventions directed at selected groups, notably young children. This was soon operationalized as UNICEF’s Child Survival Revolution. The visionary and comprehensive policy of PHC was further eroded by the 1970s debt crisis and subsequent economic policies including structural adjustment and accelerated neoliberal globalization that deregulated markets and financial flows and reduced state expenditure on public services. This translated, in many countries, as “health sector reform” with a dominant focus on cost efficiency to the detriment of broad developmental approaches to health. More recently this selective approach has been aggravated by the financing of global health through public-private partnerships that fund specific interventions for selected diseases. They have also spawned many “service delivery” NGOs whose activities have often reinforced a biomedical emphasis, supported by large philanthropic funding such as that of the Gates Foundation.
Educational institutions have largely failed to transform their curricula to incorporate the philosophy and application of PHC to inform the practice of students and graduates, perpetuating weakness in its implementation.
Revitalizing PHC requires at least three key steps: improved equity in access to services, a strong focus on intersectoral action (ISA) to address SDH and prioritization of community-based approaches. The third sustainable development goal (SDGs) focuses on health, with universal health coverage (UHC) at its center. While UHC has the potential to enhance equitable access to comprehensive health care with financial protection, realizing this will require public financing based on social solidarity. Groups with vested interests such as private insurance schemes and corporate service providers have already organized against this approach in some countries. The SDGs also provide an opportunity to enhance ISA, since they include social and environmental goals that could also support the scaling up of Community Health Worker programs and enhanced community participation.
However, SDG-8, which proposes high economic growth based substantially on an extractivist model, contradicts the goals for environmental sustainability. Human-induced environmental degradation, climate change, and global warming have emerged as a major threat to health. As presciently observed at Alma-Ata, the success of PHC, and Health for All requires the establishment of a new, ecologically sustainable, economic order.
Maria Cecília de Souza Minayo and Saul Franco
Violence is a problem that accompanies the trajectory of humanity, but it presents itself in different ways in each society and throughout its historical development. Despite having different meanings according to the field of knowledge from which it is addressed and the institutions that tackle it, there are some common elements in the definition of this phenomenon. It is acknowledged as the intentional use of force and power by individuals, groups, classes, or countries to impose themselves on others, causing harm and limiting or denying rights. Its most frequent and visible forms include homicides, suicides, war, and terrorism, but violence is also articulated and manifested in less visible forms, such as gender violence, domestic violence, and enforced disappearances.
Although attention to the consequences of different forms of violence has always been part of health services, its formal and global inclusion in health sector policies and guidelines is very recent. It was only in 1996 that the World Health Organization acknowledged it as a priority in the health programs of all countries. Violence affects individual and collective health; causes deaths, injuries, and physical and mental trauma; decreases the quality of life; and impairs the well-being of people, communities, and nations. At the same time, violence poses problems for health researchers trying to understand the complexity of its causes, its dynamics, and the different ways of dealing with it. It also poses serious challenges to health systems and services for the care of victims and perpetrators and the formulation of interdisciplinary, multi-professional, inter-sectoral, and socially articulated confrontation and prevention policies and programs.