Civil society can contribute to health rights

Friday, March 25, 2011

Johannesburg - Civil society has a critical role to play in fostering an environment that promotes and protects health rights, says Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramakgopa.

Addressing a meeting of health activists in Johannesburg on Friday, Ramakgopa stressed that health was a human right that should be enjoyed by all people regardless of race or social standing.

Government needed to be responsive when addressing the needs of its people and where specific health problems arose, it needed to direct resources and its efforts to that area, the deputy minister added.

At the same time, she also noted that communities, individuals and organisations also needed to be part of the processes.

She challenged the meeting to evaluate the extent to which South Africans had realised their right to health, while congratulating the delegates for taking up the important issue.

"South Africans should reflect on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a mirror to determine how far we have come in terms of the right to health and what more can be done," Ramakgopa said.

She also called for more money to be made available to ensure that all citizens had access to healthcare.

"The purse of a country should be distributed towards healthcare as a right," the deputy minister stressed.

Mark Heywood of human rights organization, Section 27, called for the revival of the movement for health as a human right.

"We need to make the fight for health a central pillar for movements for social justice and equality," he said, adding that the objective of the meeting was to start to unify and expand the movement.

While there were many threats to the concept of health as a human right, there were also opportunities, he noted.

In particular, new technologies that did not exist a few years ago were now available and the potential to give healthcare a major boost.

In addition, countries, including South Africa and Brazil, were pursuing the right of health and South Africa in particular, civil society had become involved in health planning.

Heywood urged delegates to fight for their respective countries to allocate appropriate resources for health.

About 60 activists from 15 countries are attending the two-day meetings titled The South African Regional Dialogue on Strategies for Accelerating and Unifying Campaigns on the Right to Health.

They are expected to discuss how to strengthen, publicise and unite campaigns for the right of health.

The activists come from more than 35 organisations, including health movements, trade unions and groups like Greenpeace.