Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) – a blog in response to the May 18 Geneva meeting minutes

24/09/2013 Comments Off on Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) – a blog in response to the May 18 Geneva meeting minutes

A blog by Marge Berer, Editor Reproductive Health Matters. Originally posted on the blog of JALI – the Joint Action and Learning Initiative on National and Global Responsibilities for Health

I asked JALI if I could write a blog after I had read the minutes of the May 18 meeting in Geneva on the way forward for an FCGH,  to raise some issues that I’ve been confronting in the seemingly endless consultations and statements circulating on the internet on the post-2015 world – to do with what an MDG replacement would look like, whether or not universal health coverage as currently conceived is the answer to how to address health, and whether and where my issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights might fit into the “Sustainable Development Goals”, the most likely successor to the MDGs, when they have had such short shrift in the MDGs.

I was particularly struck by the paragraph on the two animating principles of a Framework Convention on Global Health mentioned in the minutes, that is, ‘global health equity (within and between countries) – “global health with justice,” as offered by Larry Gostin – and the right to health… setting clear standards to make it more concrete, measurable, and enforceable… addressing global governance for health… shifting international law towards health. It would ensure for all people the conditions required for health, including health care, public health, and social determinants of health, setting standards and establishing a national and global financing framework to enable universal access to and coverage of health care and public health measures (e.g., clean water, sufficient nutritious food)… directly address domestic inequities…[and] promoting Health in All Policies.’ (pp.2-3)

Just as people in the meeting raised the fact that some participants in the FCGH process required more explicit attention, e.g. health workers and health worker unions, as did some issues, e.g. mental health, I would like to raise three aspects that I think need to be part of the FCGH discussions:

i. Gender issues – that is, the differences between men and women in their health needs, their access to health and health care, and the inequities in that differential access. Gender issues in relation to health are crucial to any convention. There has been a lot of work by women’s health advocates on gender issues in relation to women’s health but far less work by either men or women on gender issues in relation to men’s health. In the same ways as girls’ and women’s health issues were at one time almost invisible in the previous century, attention to boys’ and men’s health issues has not been developed in the past 30 years, in spite of the growing attention to women’s health issues and wide-ranging work on gender, both in academia, by the women’s health movement and even in WHO. In a recent paper I was considering for publication, for example, it was said that gender-based violence against women was the most common form of violence, when in fact men experience far more violence globally overall, but between each other, whereas women experience violence mostly from men. Thus, work is needed on how to address gender issues within an FCGH in relation to the right to health, the social determinants of health, health financing, etc, and how this might be approached needs much more thought and consideration.
ii. Religious, political and “cultural” opposition to what an FCGH would stand for, being used most vocally today to justify why access to crucial aspects of health and health care related to sexuality and reproduction are being withheld and denied, and many sexual and reproductive rights condemned and criminalised. Underlying this opposition are two forms of hate: misogyny and hatred of any form of sexuality that is not heterosexual and heteronormative.

One of the reasons I support a Convention is that it would give greater weight to all these issues by requiring not only non-discrimination and equality, but also regular examination, analysis and critique of country programmes, along with official recommendations for policy and programmes, and demands for accountability and action through interpretation of the implementation of the convention. We are beginning to see such a framework making a difference in relation to sexual and reproductive rights issues, particularly via the work of CEDAW. So I recommend studying CEDAW’s history, functions, and procedures particularly and how they might be applied more broadly across health. I would be interested in being involved in this in the future.

iii. The process of developing the successor to the MDGs may cut out the few specific aspects of health and health care that were allowed into MDG 5, where they were mostly reduced to their lowest common denominator and stripped of their complexity, e.g. universal access to reproductive health was a late add-in to MDG 5, which never moved beyond superficial attention to a few aspects of reducing maternal mortality, diluted heavily by tacking newborns, infants and children onto “maternal” health, and omitting the great majority of interlinked sexual and reproductive health problems.

Universal health coverage in my opinion may also succeed in shortcutting and eliminating the “controversial issues” in whatever is included under a “unified health goal” post-2015, and it may also make support for addressing specific aspects of health equally or even more difficult. Having devoted two recent issues of Reproductive Health Matters to privatisation in sexual and reproductive health services, where articles provided evidence of a resulting increase in inequity of access to health care among the 4th and 5th socioeconomic quintiles of many African and Asian countries, I am worried that the health goal that is eventually agreed is likely to be biased one way or another towards consumerism, commercialisation and privatisation of health and health services, and their financial underpinnings such as health insurance. I am very uncertain of the value of what has emerged so far as regards universal coverage from WHO, given the pressure on the agency from the World Bank, big pharma, world trade policies, and the influence of private/foundation donors, when measured against what we would like to see as the basis for the Framework Convention on Global Health.


Does midwifery have to be privatised to provide continuity of care for women?

30/03/2012 Comments Off on Does midwifery have to be privatised to provide continuity of care for women?

Published on the British Medical Journal Guest Blog, 29 March 2012

Earlier this year we received news of a social enterprise, Neighbourhood Midwives, providing midwifery services in the community in London, and a private company providing midwifery services for NHS Wirral Primary Care Trust. One to One, in the Wirral, promotes itself as offering the kind of continuity of care in pregnancy and maternity that midwives have wanted to provide but have often been unable to, for decades. It heralds its high rates of home births—part of which it, bizarrely, appears to attribute to the launch of the BBC drama Call the Midwife set in the East End of London in the 1950s. Of course women would prefer a single familiar and friendly midwife to see them through pregnancy and labour, instead of a roll call of harassed and overworked ones who they may only meet once, or one who barks commands as she flits between different women on the labour ward (a la real life in One Born Every Minute, Channel Four). Of course what women most want is a safe delivery and a healthy baby.

It is hardly necessary to revisit all the ways in which midwifery is failing women and midwives are being failed in turn by the health system. The Royal College of Midwives has long been calling for the urgent recruitment of 5,000 more midwives to deal with a spiralling birth rate amid great uncertainty about future resourcing in the wake of cuts and NHS reforms. In this context it is certainly worth considering the opportunities and pitfalls presented by independent organisations of midwives providing services to exploit the new liberalised health commissioning environment.

Different questions arise:

Will midwives be attracted to leave the NHS and join groups of independent providers? Which ones? Will they be those who are highly motivated to provide a good quality of service for women, continuity of care, and women-centred midwifery; or those who are unhappy or ill equipped for providing the spectrum of care women need including support through complex or high risk pregnancies and obstetric emergencies (which happen in some 15% of all pregnancies); or those who seek better or easier working conditions. This is strongly related to the question about why there is such a shortfall of midwives in the NHS, where independent organisations will find the midwives to staff their services, and—if they can find them—why the NHS can’t recruit and retain them instead?

How will these services be linked in, and relate to, services in NHS settings? It is clear that such services will be set up to support women only through low-risk pregnancies, but inevitably a proportion of those women will end up in NHS maternity units through choice or necessity. What will the impact be on NHS service planning for emergency and unplanned admissions from independent providers?

How will the comparative effectiveness and efficiency of these services be assessed when they, by their nature, will cream off the low-risk cases and have greater capacity to provide home-births which are less costly? It is not hard to see how attractive this kind of low-risk provision might be to the private sector and how essential it would be for them to return women back to the NHS as soon as it might cost them a penny more than expected.

Will the NHS—as in so many areas of care—be expected to treat only the complex and expensive cases, or handle the mistakes of the private sector? If so, what are the implications for NHS midwives who also need to look after low risk cases as part of the spectrum of care they offer, and enjoy doing so? If private provision leads to even more medicalisation of NHS services could it result in a further haemorrhaging of good midwives from the NHS?

If NHS maternity services are at risk of becoming a dumping ground for complex cases and obstetric emergency, how will this impact on options for those women who may want a more low-intervention approach, but with the safety net of doing so in a hospital setting?

Will the independent, community-based service be open to and promoted to all women, or will we end up with two tiers of provision? Will women who are well-versed in what they want get shiny new community services, while everyone else—including teenagers, those with language or learning difficulties, the poor, and those simply lacking in knowledge and confidence—is expected to “like it or lump it” in the local hospital?

How have these new groups managed to organise NHS support to arrange professional insurance when this is something independent midwives have often struggled or failed to do?

Finally, the question we are asking about all NHS services: is it just a matter of time before we are expected to pay fees for some services, and could privately provided midwifery be one of these?

We would all like to see services providing continuity of care for pregnant women in the community. If this is to be provided by independent organisations it must be freely available, and must not be provided at the expense of good quality, comprehensive NHS maternity provision by midwife-led units, whether within or attached to NHS hospitals.

A guest blog by Lisa Hallgarten: social media manager at Reproductive Health Matters; sexual health trainer, educator, and blogger at Education For Choice; and advocate for better sex education for all young people.

An open letter to Shirley Williams

17/02/2012 Comments Off on An open letter to Shirley Williams

Dear Baroness Williams,

I have greatly appreciated your continuing efforts during the debate on the NHS Bill in the House of Lords until recently and that you took the time to send out the group emails that have kept those of us on the outside informed.

I am writing now, however, to say how disheartened I was to learn earlier this week that you have called for the Bill to be amended and passed, as if the entire Bill were not about competition, intended to open the door wide to privatisation and atomisation of the NHS, which is the Government’s strategy not only with the Health Service but with home and social care, with education and indeed almost everything else.

Your Party, as part of the Coalition, is certainly in an untenable position, as you are the ones who will make the passage of the Bill possible. I would not want to be in your shoes with the public when the true nature of the betrayal of the Health Service emerges if the Bill goes forward. Simon Hughes misguidedly believes that removing Andrew Lansley after you pass the Bill will save the situation, but it will not, though indeed Andrew Lansley should go precisely because he tried to sign away responsibility for his own position. But he must go along with the Bill, not after it or instead of it.

No one, from David Cameron on down, can ignore the increasingly articulated views of most health professionals as well as the public, which have grown in strength over the past few months as more and more people come to understand what is at stake. If democracy still means anything, then both Houses of Parliament must bow to the strength of public opinion and withdraw this Bill before it can do any further damage.

If all the Conservatives could find to say in defence of the Bill, e.g. on Question Time, is that the BMA didn’t support the NHS in 1948 either (a misreading of history), and that because it is already being implemented it is too late to turn back, then they (and you) have well and truly lost the argument.

Indeed, I would ask you whether the extent of implementation of the Bill – even before it has been debated fully, let alone voted upon – is unconstitutional. If it isn’t, then it should be.

I urge you from your position of leadership to convince both parties in the Coalition that this Bill is unsalvageable and should be withdrawn – as the only honourable thing left to do.


With kind regards,

Marge Berer

Editor, Reproductive Health Matters

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