By Mike Murray
On Saturday, November 5th FSU ran a lecture series entitled “The Health Justice Forum”. The series consisted of speakers discussing public health, the impact of current health policy on society, and issues relating to the economic impact of the recession on health.
Jim Recht, chair of the Massachusetts chapter of Physicians for National Health, and Mardge Cohen, a physician at Boston HealthCare for the Homeless and member of the Physicians for National Health, focused their discussion on the need for a quality National Healthcare system. The cuts facing Medicare and Medicaid, they said, will leave us with a severe health deficit.
Jeremy Barofsky, Jacob Bor and Ashley Winner, graduate students at the Harvard School of Public Health, led a session on currently proposed austerity measures, the recession, and their impact on public health. “Today we make a simple argument: inequality makes us sick because in unequal societies, the economic elite have a disproportionate influence in politics, and government is less likely to support policies that benefit the health of the 99%,” said Bor in his opening remarks.
Ms.Winner discussed the relationship between unemployment, foreclosures and increased social inequality to the widespread health epidemics of obesity, diabetes, infant mortality, suicide, and stress-related mental illness. Health science has found that a low socio-economic status and a lack of education can result in the alteration of a child’s biology due to poor nutrition, a lack of exercise, and bad health choices.
This effect is multi-generational. “Higher income inequalities”, Winner said, “over time leads to worsened public health, specifically in wealthy countries” like the U.S.
Barofsky went on to talk about the effects of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, citing a recent study of Oregon’s Medicaid lottery. Of the elderly covered and uncovered by health insurance, it found that those who were insured incurred less health care expenses and were more productive members of society. Health programs, they concluded, mitigate “the negative effects of a recession” by allowing citizens to be more productive and active.
Bor finished the one hour lecture by analyzing public policies and health spending at home and abroad. Domestically, the U.S is facing “3.5 billion (dollars) in cuts over the course of 10 years to the Public Health and Prevention Fund” which Bor said will only cause more healthcare costs to rise, increased “foodborne outbreaks” (citing the recent Cantaloupe food poisoning) and rising unemployment due to a sick or disabled workforce.
Internationally, “commodity speculation has led to large swings in global food prices, which have caused tens of millions of people to be malnourished.” The best way to ensure long-term health, Bor said, is “to reduce long run global health disparities”.
Katerina Ciraldo and Margie Thorp, members of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, discussed an idea “completely plausible” given current advances in medicine: the end of HIV/AIDS.
Ciraldo proposed to fund this endeavor through a financial transaction tax. The first step relies on a recent study which found that HIV drugs are 96% effective in preventing HIV transmission between those sharing non-salivary fluids. By distributing HIV drugs to those with the virus, “economists and mathematicians”, Ciraldo said, found that within thirty years the number of people with HIV would be “close to zero”.
The biggest barrier to this is funding. By taxing every financial transaction between .05-.005%, this tax “could generate more than enough money” to distribute drugs to those who need them. Ciraldo and Thorp are looking for an international consensus on the tax, a topic being discussed at this week’s G20 summit.
After funding, the other major obstacle this plan faces is accessibility to generic drugs. Due to strictly enforced patent protection laws that benefit large Pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing, purchasing, and distributing generic HIV drugs could be extremely difficult.
All of the forum’s speakers made it clear that America’s current health policy- inefficient healthcare coverage and spending, a lack of preventative treatments, budget cutting- will only create a wider disparity between upper and lower classes. The only way to stop this is to continue fighting for better health policy.
For more information about this plan and the Student Global AIDS campaign visit their website.
For more information on the Health Justice Working Group, visit www.healthjusticeboston.org.