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A Comprehensive Approach to Social Protection: Integrating Healthcare

12 Jul 2011

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Armando De Negri Filho is an epidemiologist and coordinator of the executive committee of the World Social Forum on Health and Social Security. We talked to him when he was in Geneva for the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly.

How important do you think it is to increase spending on public health for the broader social development of the state, is it integral?

It’s extremely related and important because the first thing it’s necessary to know on this process of universalization, is that when you provide enough public healthcare—comprehensive, high quality public healthcare—the first thing you do is to protect the domestic economies against imposed expenditures on health, because of course families, when they have health problems, are obliged to spend money on that. So if we can protect the domestic economy against that, it means we are protecting families and individuals from poverty.

How is healthcare connected to other components of social protection?

Healthcare is something that is very much linked with many other of the social protection dimensions. I mean, it’s almost impossible to separate the right to education from the right to health, in the sense that in order to be able to learn and to be able to follow the educational process, it’s very important that you have good health.

So do you see healthcare as integral to a human rights framework?

It’s not enough to fight for the universal right to health if you don’t connect that with the other fields of the social protection system, which means to include a full and comprehensive understanding of human rights as a system. So if I’m fighting for public health, I’m obliged to fight for other rights that are already recognized in the human rights system. It means that our struggle since three, four years ago, changed in terms of agenda; we are looking for full social protection system that will include not only the rights, civil and political rights, but as well as all the classical social rights and the economical rights.

What are you proposing at the international level?

Ask for the building or rebuilding of social protection systems where all rights could be considered integrated. It’s a kind of integrated answer to the fragmentation proposed by the neoliberal policies where we separated all the rights, we adopted fragments of rights. And this kind of comprehensive approach is leading us in a process, we are connecting different fields.

What is involved in that process?

We are no more only health activists, we are connecting with work activists, education activists, with special social protection activists, children’s and women’s rights, because we have a common subject, and this common subject is this condition of social protection, which gives to the people and nations superior sense of belonging to a society and to lead us to a new concept or a new approach to the social contract that we need to have among societies and states. We understand this kind of approach is very much powerful to face and change the neoliberal order. To change within the frame of this global crisis, to change the logic of an economy that must be reembedded in society to serve the needs of society and not the society serving the needs of the economy.

For UNRISD, this is Rheem Al-Adhami in Geneva.

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