Over the next few days I am privileged to be attending the ‘Global Health Futures’ Conference hosted by the College of Medicine, UK and Soukya Foundation. We are in Bangalore, India, and I can think of no better place to speak about Health beyond sickness and allopathic approaches.
This morning’s conference opening was refreshing, The Prince of Wales who is currently in India addressed delegates via video link, and his message chimed with that of others: Health is not a commodity, it is co-produced and must have the person and their community at the centre with medical systems in service and in reserve. The Prince of Wales cited Hazel Stuteley’s work in England and called for more approaches of this kind.
Brian Fisher and Hazel Stuteley addressed the conference in the afternoon with a passionate invitation to all in attendance to work to ensure that asset based community development is known and practiced globally on the basis that it offers a global opportunity for health improvement. This message will be repeated often over the next few days by Brian and Hazel and I’m honoured to join my voice with theirs on this message, and humbled to be sharing the platform with them and other wonderful global citizens. I am particularly excited to meet Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
Archbishop Tutu is regarded as an elder world statesperson with a major role to play in reconciliation, and as a leading moral voice. He has become an icon of hope far beyond the Church and South Africa. Bishop Tutu is chairperson of the Elders, an independent group of influential people chosen for their outstanding integrity, courage and proven ability to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges. They use their collective power to catalyse peaceful resolutions to conflict areas and address global issues that cause immense human suffering. His presence denotes the significance of the platform. The conference will conclude with the signing of ‘The Bangalore Declaration’.
The messages I hope to share through my keynote are pretty simple. The challenge, as always, will be in translating them into practical action:
1. Health is a political issue; if we are to see global health improvement then we need to shift the conversation from ‘medical problems’ to ‘political’ and ‘communal’ issues. We can’t therefore meaningfully speak about health improvement without also speaking about environmental, democratic, and economic improvements.
2. Action towards health improvement must lead away from an almost total dependency on professional interventions and tools, toward community-building and citizen action. Understanding what it is we can do as citizens to produce healthfulness in knowledge and action is critical, since health is not a product of health systems but of humanness interacting with itself, its environment and its economy.
3. As community building as a tool for health improvement gathers momentum, the medical system should lead by stepping back….but will it? Like all systems, the medical system must consider the harm it does in expecting people to organise themselves and their ailments the way the system organises itself. I will share stories that clearly illustrate how most hospitals deal with social problems not disease, and how many of these social problems can be best tackled by competent communities. In essence I will argue health improvement is about hospitable communities, not hospitable beds.
4. Mobilising to grow healthfulness in our communities will demand some level of relinquishment by the medical system of the resources and ground it currently claims for therapeutic purposes. As it becomes clear that resources currently intended for the treatment of disease are being used to deal with dog bites, bronchial ailments, car accidents and a range of other social challenges, it will also become clear that those resources need to flow towards the domain of greatest competence: citizens organised in communities. In essence this means even if a small portion of medical system budgets were reinvested in community building and away from medical intervention, huge savings would result.
5. Global health improvement can be realised in my lifetime if we shift from what is wrong, toward what is strong, thereby investing in growing health from inside-out, not outside in. Health is not something we bring to people, it is the net result of a community coming together to use what it has to secure what it needs, including medical systems when required.
I will keep you updated by twitter and blog posts. Do please feel free to feed your thoughts into this conference – I will air them where I can.