People's Health Assembly in London: a small report
The People's Health Movement Europe gathered in the beginning of Octobre in London for a People's Health Assembly. Aletha, volunteer for TWHA, was there. A small report.
The East London People's health assembly was a great experience; it was an opportunity to meet new people and network but also discuss different issues from a health perspective.
Migrants and refugees
The first topic discussed was migrants and refugees and the impact on their health. When we look at health from the standpoint of migration and politics, migrant’s access to health is based on their immigration status. Irregular migrants and their children are not entitled to free medical treatment, in the case of emergency they might receive the care they need based on some payment scheme. Paying for medical services is impossible for many migrants because they are not allowed to work or earn money. In the case of not being able to afford the medical cost, many postpone the care they need which may worsen the prognosis. The immigrations Acts and laws in many countries forced this most vulnerable sub-group of the population into poverty, while at the same time discourages others from seeking refuge in host countries. Some groups like doctors of the world provide healthcare to these excluded groups; they provide short-term medical care (primary care). Many migrants experienced mental illness in the context of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). All people want is to be safe, secure and happy, but an undocumented migrant cannot have that because you have look over your shoulders constantly. There were also highlights on the current migrant/refugee situation in Turkey, the Mediterranean becoming a necropolis as a result of the thousands of death lost at sea.
Yearly more than 30,000 people are held across nine immigration removal centers which include pregnant women and children. Private profit making companies run these detention centers; the prison estate keeps growing while the number of asylum application decreases. Victims are held in remote and vulnerable detention centers for no reasons, without charge or trial with the aim of deportation. The half is put back into the population while others are kept indefinitely. People held in detention are subject to mental trauma and some experienced torture, inhumane and degrading treatments which have a toxic effect on their health. Ironically it cost about 100 pounds per day to maintain someone in a detention center while retaining someone on an asylum support in the community cost 35 pounds per week. In custody medical screening is not consistent, there may be health failures, and there is no guarantee of the continuity of care.
Housing and health
The second topic for discussion was housing and health. When you hear about London, it is always that fancy part, the financial and political capital, Big Ben and Westminster. I was shocked to see a different image just a few blocks away from corporate London in the Tower of Hamlets. Tower of Hamlets is home to the majority of those who find themselves in the lower socio-economic class. In East London, housing is an important social determinant of health. Some poor housing conditions are sanitation, poor indoor air quality, overcrowding, etc. These poor conditions result in health problems such as high chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, stress and sometimes skin illness. In the post-Olympic East London, people today experience high rent cost, housing insufficiency, and overcrowding. Due to austerity and cut in spending, there are not enough affordable social homes built which put private landlords in a better position. People often look for an alternative such as cheaper housing or share accommodation. The more inexpensive the places, the worse the conditions (pest, rats, damp, mold). Also not being able to afford to pay rent pushes people into homelessness. The so-called financial crisis led many nations to austerity. The real danger to the public is not the recession, but what countries do to recover from the recession. Under austerity with population increase, there is less funding for services such as housing and health. The focus becomes trying to make a basic living, other needs (medical) may be delayed because they cannot afford it. The vulnerable population without a support system is the ones who suffer the most under austerity.
Privatization and the threaths to social services
Lastly, privatization and the threats to the NHS and voluntary sector reveal that healthcare privatization is becoming a trend; it is turning the ownership of the public asset to private actors. This private for-profit ownership has a more negative impact not just on the quality of care which threatens patient safety; it leaves hospitals with massive debts, leads to closure of hospitals and bed loss. Privatization from a community perspective leads to health inequalities; it increases the impact of social determinants of health.
To conclude we worked in team towards proposal for actions on how to resist and counteract privatization of healthcare, how to work with/for migrants to change the policies and politics within countries and the involvement and participation of the community in the struggle for health.