EQUINET congratulates the first WHO Director General from Africa
EQUINET steering committee

The World Health Organisation has its first ever director-general from Africa, after the election of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the former Ethiopian health minister, who will begin his term in July 2017. In a speech to the World Health Assembly Dr Tedros Adhanom talked about growing up in Ethiopia, saying he comes from a background of “knowing survival cannot be taken for granted, and refusing to accept that people should die because they are poor.” He spoke about the need for universal access to health care, a better response to health emergencies and the need to tackle gender-based violence, as well as threats to global health like climate change. He wrote in his application "“I envision a world where everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live.” We look forward to contributing to what this implies for health equity, globally and in our region.

Improving emergency care in our region is vital for our rights and protection
I Rusike, E Sharara, C Chimhete, T Munouya, Community Working Group on Health, Zimbabwe

In front of us in one of our rural districts is a road accident with injured passengers including children. They are distressed - the local public hospital has no ambulance and they are trying to find enough money to assure the private ambulance service that they will be able to pay the fee before they will send the ambulance. The fee is more than they can afford, but if they don’t find someone to pay and get people to care quickly the injured people could have complications or suffer avoidable deaths.

This is not the only problem people who have emergencies face. Ambulances can take long to respond. Many ambulances too do not have basic equipment or adequately trained staff to take care of patients during transit, also complicating their recovery or risking fatalities in transit. Emergency departments are under resourced, without adequate equipment and staff to cope with the critically ill patients coming to them, including patients who have delayed seeking care until they have an acute emergency. In some countries in our region, a critical shortage of doctors and other skilled health workers has affected the quality of the response to emergencies. Yet in others, like South Africa and Uganda, ambulances are better equipped and staffed, and people arriving at emergency facilities find doctors and nurses on stand-by and ready to receive patients and give them prompt care.

This situation is compounded by conditions that increase the risk of traumatic injury. For example, the state of our roads in Zimbabwe’s road network raises concern, especially when they are further damaged by heavy rains and other climate disasters. Poor roads not only raise the risk of accidents, but also mean that ambulances cannot easily access patients in need. During the rainy season, rural roads become even more impassable, making access for emergency services even more difficult. While communities assist with emergencies where they can, local transport operators sometimes take advantage of poor conditions to overcharge desperate patients in need of acute care, including pregnant women, carers of sick children and elderly people. In the absence of adequate investment in roads and services, poor people pay the price. Allocating funds to improve road systems will prevent accidents and also make it easier for ambulances to reach emergencies. Yet in 2017, of the US$15 million that the Harare City Council said it needed to improve the road network in Harare alone, it received only US1.2m from the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara).

The situation may be even worse when air rescue emergency services are needed, as a key component of an effective emergency care system. Yet air rescue emergency services are an even more scarce healthcare resource, and as in Zimbabwe, the only public service for this may be the Air Force. There are private services for those able to afford the costs of private insurance or providers, but these are unaffordable for the majority, and thus only used by a minority of people.

In the common discussions on universal health coverage and emergency responses, it is important that we at minimum ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of effective and good quality emergency medical services for everyone in the public. Good quality emergency medical services provide an immediate response to a variety of illnesses and injuries and the treatment and transportation of people in health situations that may be life threatening. They should provide universal quality care to all those who need it at the time they need it to save their lives, prevent suffering or disability. Although the current situation varies from country to country in the region, for many this is not yet delivered.

The situation contradicts the fact that in Zimbabwe, as for seven other countries of the region, according to EQUINET policy brief 27, the constitution guarantees citizens the right to health care, including emergency medical services. Section 76 (3) of Zimbabwe’s Constitution states this as, “No person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health care institution.” Of course no service would refuse care, but a situation of inadequate investment in affordable, accessible and good quality emergency services, including ambulances can be understood to be a form of denial, or refusal. The Zimbabwe Constitution makes this clear in stating that the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realization of this right. Whilst public emergency services offered by state-owned health institutions, the air force, the police and fire brigade are weak and poorly resourced, people’s rights are violated and they are exposed to high payments for private services, or worse still disability or death.

It is evident that this is a core duty of the state and must be adequately funded. When public emergency care services are not adequately funded, staffed or provided, it leads to a growth of commercial and privatized services. While this is a private sector response to demand, and can help to minimize morbidity and mortality if of good quality and properly regulated and monitored, it is not appropriate to rely on the private sector for this service, and leads to inequities in access to care. The driving force of private provision is maximizing profits and not the needs of the most disadvantaged members of society. A trend towards privatization of emergency medical services thus has highest burdens for the poorest, adding to the stresses in often tough economic environments of accessing services and meeting medical bills. A 2016 study by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development on a public-private partnership in one major central hospital in Zimbabwe found that residents faced challenges in realizing their right to health care, due to the high cost of services, unfair treatment of those who cannot pay, ‘…deepening inequality between the haves and have-nots’ and report of corruption in the demand by staff for differing levels of cash payments. They attributed this violation of rights to health care to the ‘private vendor profit motive’ and diminished public control.

Beyond improving public funding of emergency care services, we can also take advantage of technology advances. For example, health facilities have used mobile phones to alert ambulance services and to support those attending to patients whilst waiting for an ambulance or medical personnel, improving the possibility of improved outcomes for patients. A ‘Dial-a-Doc’ initiative by one mobile operator in Zimbabwe works with enlisted services of medical practitioners at a call center to respond to phone-in requests for information and help from the public. A similar service is available in South Africa, Zambia and Malawi.

At the same time, we cannot keep relying on the health services to manage growing risks in the environments we live and work in. Death and disability from traumatic injuries from road traffic accidents on poor roads, from climate disasters and other accidents, and acute health crises in pregnancy, for children and others, and due to unsafe working conditions are largely preventable and should not be filling our health services. We need to have a commitment from all sectors that play a role to identify and reduce their role in traumatic injury and illness.

As economies improve they should show marked reductions in such trauma, but even under challenging economic conditions, adequate, affordable and accessible public emergency care services must be secured.

Please send feedback or queries on the issues raised in this oped to the EQUINET secretariat: admin@equinetafrica.org.

An African lens on the World Health Assembly 2017
Dr E Makasa, Counsellor-Health, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Zambia, Dr R Loewenson, TARSC

The 2017 World Health Assembly (WHA70) will be held in Geneva from 22 to 31 May 2017. The agenda and initial documents are being made available at http://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_wha70.html.

WHA70 has a wide ranging agenda, including the election of a new Director General; the management of emergency responses and antimicrobial resistance; research and development (R&D) for neglected diseases; the capacities for and evaluation of preparedness for the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, migrant health; and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), amongst other items. It will discuss progress in the implementation of resolutions from prior WHAs and the governance and programmes of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHA is being held at a time when military conflict has terrorized populations and forced displacement internally and across borders, disrupting lives, livelihoods and food supplies, and heightening the risk of epidemic outbreaks. African migrants leaving due to conflict or to seek economic opportunity face many health challenges, including physical and psychological stress and abuse, and poor access health services. Migrancy affects transmission of infectious diseases, including to northern countries now experiencing warmer temperatures due to climate change. WHO has proposed migrant-sensitive health policies that incorporate a public health approach, with universal, equitable access to quality health services that would also assist in surveillance, detection and control of infectious and other health problems and financial protection for migrants. However, there is a wide gap between this and the situation in practice.

Progress has been made in the development of a vaccine against Ebola and control of the yellow fever epidemic in central Africa. The accelerated process for use of the former as an experimental vaccines in health care and frontline workers has raised ethical and equity concerns, while non availability of yellow fever vaccine stocks in the latter case led to fractional dosing (of one fifth of the normal vaccine dose) to stretch resources as an emergency response, which, as indicated by WHO, does not confer longer term protection and is not a measure for routine vaccination. These issues and a Zika virus disease outbreak recently reported in Angola from the Aedes vector responsible for transmitting dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya virus infections points to the need for strengthened public health measures to prevent, detect and control communicable diseases, within and across countries. Although much attention has been given to acute infectious disease emergencies, the rising level of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in ESA countries, including trauma/injuries and cancers represents a major immediate and long term challenge, driven largely by conditions and policies outside the health sector, with health systems that are poorly equipped to detect, prevent and manage them.

These health threats take place against the backdrop of underfunded health systems and inadequate skilled health workers and medicines in our region, particularly in areas of high health need. While 18 million workers are estimated to be needed globally to achieve Universal Health Coverage and maintain pace with SDGs, by 2030 Africa is projected to have a shortage of 6 million health workers. Inadequate and increasingly costly medicines and health technologies undermine equitable access, in a global environment of growing microbial resistance and one that still raises investment, technology transfer and intellectual property barriers to development and production in areas of high health need. This directly links measures to combat antimicrobial resistance to those that ensure community health literacy and equitable access at affordable cost to good quality old and new antibiotics, vaccines and diagnostic tools, and measures for public investment in R&D, local production, pooled procurement and the lifting in practice of intellectual property barriers affecting public health.

There has been progress, particularly in emergency responses. For example, the WHO has set up a Health Emergencies Programme to co-ordinate emergency prevention and response; a collaboration agreement with the Africa Centre for Disease Control (AU-CDC) has stimulated work to build a regional health workforce for emergencies. Incident Management Systems have been established in a number of African countries to strengthen coordination of responses to emergencies and nine African countries have implemented Joint External Evaluations of their IHR core capacities. The WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies and the Africa Public Health Emergency Fund have been established and have enabled quick response to zika, cholera and yellow fever outbreaks, although with challenges to address, including their alignment to national resources and delays in operationalising and slow disbursement of these funds.

This investment in detection and control of epidemics is welcomed, but the concern in the region is also to prevent epidemics from occurring in the first place. This needs continuous strengthening of health information systems and population surveys to map disease risks and burdens and assess vulnerabilities in the region, to raise and ensure that African priorities are planned for and responded to at local, national, regional and global level.

An East Central and Southern African Health Community (ECSA HC) April 2017 meeting of senior officials and technical actors with input from Geneva-based diplomats in the Africa Group of Health Experts noted that this calls for a pooling of efforts, to respond to emergencies, to co-ordinate R&D and to share capacities and experience in building integrated health systems. Such comprehensive measures recognise that health systems are not simply technical in nature, but signal our social values, including for example in the way migrants are treated, or in how the health workers in conflict and emergency zones are cared for and protected.

Delegates at the ECSA HC meeting called for integrated systems and a one-health approach, rather than a proliferation of new silo’ed vertical programmes and committees. Health for population groups like mothers and children or for settings like urban health should not be treated as another vertical programme, but addressed through making clear linkages with comprehensive health systems and ‘health-in-all-policies’. After a long period of investment in specific disease programmes, investments are now seen to be needed in the institutional arrangements, processes and information systems that support coordination, collaboration and integration of actions within health systems, with other sectors and within and across countries.

A focus on prevention demands action upstream, to map and identify risk and vulnerability and to control vectors and risk environments, both for infectious and non-infectious risks, including those related to chemicals, radiation and food safety. Integration calls for resources and strategies for prevention and response to epidemics and emerging challenges such as NCDs to be linked to broader measures applied to build robust, competent and comprehensive health systems that enroll and involve their communities. It calls for measures to reduce the costs of health technologies and treatment programmes, and to strengthen the independent country and regional regulatory agencies, databases and public health agencies needed to inform and support responses within and across countries.

This resonates with the WHO 2030 agenda calling for a One World One Health approach, that involves strengthening health systems for universal health coverage and inter-sectoral action for health. However two years from the declaration of the SDGs, it is surely time to focus attention on moving from pronouncements to what actions have been taken to implement the SDGs, particularly in terms of the public health issues that are a priority for the region. These are issues for whoever is elected as the new DG, whether from Africa or not. How far are the necessary actions being financed and delivered? What progress has been made in equitable development of and access to research and innovation? What progress is WHO making in reclaiming its leading role in health within the United Nations system, backed by the necessary increase in fixed contributions from countries to ensure its autonomy as global public health authority? What progress have countries made in improving progressive financing and reducing dependence on out of pocket funding? How far have all countries put in place the integrated, comprehensive primary health care oriented systems and public health leadership and capacities needed to meet these challenges and to progressively meet the right to health, leaving no-one behind?

Please send feedback or queries on the issues raised in this oped to the EQUINET secretariat: admin@equinetafrica.org.

From resource curse to fair benefit? Protecting health in the extractive sector
Rene Loewenson, Training and Research Support Centre

The African Union (AU) African Mining Vision envisages a mining sector on the continent that contributes to the continent’s development, not only in terms of its economic growth, but also through mining processes that are “safe, healthy, gender and ethnically inclusive, environmentally friendly, socially responsible and appreciated by surrounding communities.” An increasing number of multinational companies from all regions globally are extracting mineral resources in east and southern Africa (ESA), but how far are these extractive industries (EIs) delivering on this vision of flourishing, healthy communities in their vicinity?

Notwithstanding the price fluctuations in the sector, EI exports have yielded significant returns, with oil, gas and mineral exports from the continent estimated in 2009 to be worth roughly five times the value of international aid inflows. They have, however, been associated with rapid but unsustainable growth and high levels of inequality, especially where they have limited forward or backward linkages into the national economy, and where they do not adequately invest in or protect the social and economic development of local communities.

A demand for socially responsible EI practice has already led to over 25 international standards, codes, performance standards and guidance documents from United Nations (UN) institutions, international agencies, including the International Finance Corporation, civil society and from business itself. The standards relate to business and human rights, to labour, health, environmental and social obligations, to socially responsible investment and practice and to transparency in governance of the sector. The international standards relating to health in EIs are detailed in a recent EQUINET report (Discussion paper 108) and policy brief available on the EQUINET website. As a condition for granting mining or prospecting rights, they cover duties to assess and prevent health, social and environmental risks and to ensure fair process and health, social and livelihood protections for communities that are relocated due to mining. During the mining processes, they include prevention of harm to the health of workers and surrounding communities, making fair fiscal contributions to health care and ensuring fair benefit and transparency in their operations. They also include post closure obligations in relation to any longer term health and social harm.

Recognising regional need and benefits, African states have resolved to harmonise standards and laws for the sector at sub-regional level, in west Africa, through ECOWAS, and southern Africa, through SADC. A number of ESA countries, such as South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Kenya, have also set in place initiatives to bring local standards and practice for EIs in line with global best practices.

The rapid expansion of the sector into new areas, the legislative gaps in countries with newer sectors, the differences in power between multinational actors and under-resourced states and communities, amongst other factors, have led to various areas of harm and conflict that call for such rights and duties to be made clear. Notwithstanding the employment, income and fiscal contributions they bring, EIs have been reported to bring health risks for workers and surrounding communities. These risks arise from hazardous working conditions and degraded or polluted environments, from the displacement of local people, several thousand in some cases, without adequate replacement of living conditions, resources, services and livelihoods, and from generous tax exemptions that limit EI contributions to social services. The EQUINET discussion paper summarises some of this published evidence. It also reports evidence of discontent or protest from local communities, who feel excluded from decisions and frustrated by grievance handling mechanisms. Indeed, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has established a Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa to examine and propose measures to prevent and provide reparation for such negative impacts, while civil society campaigns, like ‘Publish what you pay’ have sought greater transparency in EI operations. These conditions suggest that it would be timely to give more attention to realising the intentions to harmonise regional standards on EIs and to ensure that health is included within this.

An analysis of the laws on EIs and health in the ESA region in Discussion paper 108 indicates some general findings across the region: There is generally protection in current ESA laws of occupational health for workers employed by EIs, of duties to the environment, and of fiscal and post mine closure duties. There is, however, weaker protection in current ESA laws of the health and social wellbeing of communities displaced by mines, of families living around mines and of health duties post-closure, such as in relation to chronic diseases. In the laws analysed, fewer countries included duties on forward and backward links with local sectors, communities and services.

It was however a positive finding that where there are gaps in the law, there are also clauses in the law of one or more individual ESA countries that are aligned to international standards that may guide what may be included in the laws of others.

Such ‘good practice’ clauses could inform the content of harmonised regional standards. Their origin from ESA countries of different size and income also suggests that it would be feasible to apply them more widely across the region. The EQUINET discussion paper and policy brief at http://tinyurl.com/gr6yyza present suggested clauses for regional guidance on health in EIs (and the laws they derive from), in line with international and continental standards.

Implementing the vision of a socially responsible, healthy and inclusive mining sector clearly calls for more than law. In relation to health, there is evidence of the need for strengthened enforcement and practice, such as to revisit over-generous fiscal exemptions, to integrate health more centrally in tools for and approvals from impact assessment, to strengthen public sector co-ordination and capacities to monitor and prevent health risks, and to provide public information and meaningful mechanisms for community voice and agency in measures to protect their health. However, having harmonised regional standards may help to raise awareness and understanding amongst the different public sectors, private actors and communities of their roles, rights and duties in relation to health in EIs, and give support to the social and institutional processes and measures needed to promote healthy practice.

Please send feedback or queries on the issues raised in this oped to the EQUINET secretariat: admin@equinetafrica.org. You can read further evidence in EQUINET Discussion paper 108 Corporate responsibility for health in the extractive sector in East and Southern Africa at http://tinyurl.com/zm7afbk and Policy brief 42 at http://tinyurl.com/gr6yyza

The World Health Organisation should counter the privatization of health governance, but does it?
Claudio Schuftan, Peoples Health Movement, Ho Chi Minh City

While economics is not World Health Organisation (WHO)’s core expertise, the impact of poverty and income maldistribution on population health clearly justifies the organisation working with other agencies within or outside the UN system to focus much more attention on questions of disparity. Things being the way they are right now, it is thus difficult to make sense of the shrinking scope of WHO’s role in global health governance.

One factor could be the wide and ambiguous use of slogans about ‘stakeholders’ and the fait-accompli of ‘multi-stakeholder platforms’ and ‘public-private partnerships’. The term ‘stakeholders’, bundling together public interest civil society organizations with international NGOs, private sector enterprises and philanthropies under the term ‘non-state actors’, appears to endow all of these private ‘stakeholders’ with the right to a ‘seat at the table’, with only the tobacco and arms industries declared off limits. Such ‘sitting rights’ jeopardize people’s human rights as enshrined in various instruments, including the right to health.

‘Donor’ countries (the US in particular) continue to push the WHO towards working with industry through such ‘multi‐stakeholder partnerships’, rather than giving it the chance to implement regulatory and fiscal strategies that could make a real difference. Bilateral funders and big philanthropies demand that WHO provide data according to their particular interests, beyond the compilation of country-reported statistics. They focus on providing technical interventions, and introduce a bias away from interventions on the right to health or social determinants.

This treatment of WHO is part of a wider onslaught on the UN system generally. The whole UN system is held hostage to short-term, unpredictable, funding. The freezing and periodic withholding of countries’ assessed contributions and tightly earmarked voluntary contributions creates dependence on private philanthropy. It applies a sustained pressure to adopt the multi‐stakeholder partnership model of program design and implementation that gives global corporations an undeserved ‘seat at the table’.

If the WHO reform is to realise the vision of its Constitution, it will require a global mobilization around the democratization of global health governance, within the wider global mobilization for human rights and equity in global economic and political governance. Globalization has created new collective health needs that cross old spatial, temporal and political boundaries. In response, we need global health governance institutions that represent the many, not the few; and that are sufficiently agile to act effectively in a fast-paced world and capable of bringing together the best ideas and boundary-shattering knowledge available.

Yet the WHO seems strangely detached from the broader political turmoil and changes unfolding around the world. WHO may point to its 193 member states and claim to be universally representative, but it is far from politically inclusive. Like the alienation felt by millions around the world, many members of the global health community have turned elsewhere to move issues forward and get things done. We thus see a steady decline of WHO, clinging to obsolete political institutions and bureaucratic models, yet kept alive by member states as an essential public institution. This decline is not because WHO is not needed, but because it has not adapted to and is not publicly financed for a changing world. It is not the WHO that we need today.

Political innovation must thus become a fundamental part of the process of WHO reform. We need to think: How might virtual and interactive town halls improve communication between global health policy-makers and the constituencies they serve? How might the closed world of global policy-making be opened up and strengthened through virtual public consultations, feedback and monitoring systems? How might the concept of global citizenship become institutionalized within our global health institutions, especially WHO?

We also need to challenge the re-legitimation of the ‘free trade agenda’ in health that has strengthened intellectual property (patent) protection regimes despite their well-known negative consequences for public health. We need to question the mantra of the ‘realistic costing of outputs’ that prescribe programme implementation models where programmes comprise a set of planned outputs from prescribed activities with known costs. This approach leaves little, if any, room for flexibly managing complexity in planning and implementing systems. It makes health actors, including WHO, wary of the longer term implementation processes needed in health systems, partly because they disrupt ‘production schedules’ demanded by funders.

These models also contradict our understanding that health care is just one of the factors influencing health and can only be considered part of the solution. As the 2008 WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health stated, “Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale and constitutes a greater threat to public health than a lack of doctors, medicines or health care services”. The conditions under which people live and work, their socioeconomic development, education, housing and other conditions have a major impact on health behaviours and outcomes. A robust analysis of the root causes of the preventable global disease burden is thus essential to understand which ‘stakeholders’, or duty bearers, are part of the problem and which are part of the solution. Consistent with human rights principles and the findings of the 2008 Commission report, such analysis enables us to identify which can be trusted to have a seat at the policy table.

This influence of social injustice on health and the analysis of root causes of preventable disease appears most obscured in the influence of external funders over health ministries in the global south. It keeps them focused slogans such as ‘development assistance’ and ‘public-private partnerships’ that in their design serve the agenda of the richest 1%. In so doing it sustains a world view of the beneficence of private enterprise and that accepts as natural and unchanging conditions of global inequality and environmental degradation.

This editorial draws on points raised in the work of PHM and other colleagues, including K Detavernier, M Kok, K Lee, D Legge and E Pisani. For further information visit the PHM website at http://www.phmovement.org/ . Please send feedback or queries on the issues raised in this briefing to the EQUINET secretariat: admin@equinetafrica.org.

A memo from the virtual desk of the Department of Urban Rights, Southern Africa, 2036
Thandiwe Loewenson, PhD student, Bartlett School of Architecture

Comrades, colleagues, citizens

As we prepare to host the UN Habitat 4 it is timely to reflect on the declarations made and the journey we've taken since the last conference in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016. (Is really it only the fourth conference - many of us weren't even born when the first was held in 1976!) We are fortunate here in Harare to be part of a regional movement, together with our strategic partner cities, towards more equitable and inclusive urban environments. Habitat 3 gave early voice to many of the changes that were nascent in our cities at the time: greater networking between cities, space for people to influence urban design in their cities, a consciousness of climate challenges and an awareness of the intertwined fortunes between urban and rural areas. Our cities today are not isolated. Whilst retaining their unique qualities and idiosyncrasies, they are part of highly globalised, networked ecosystems where our futures are deeply connected.

Our archives reveal that the atmosphere in Quito was aspirational. From the records excavated after the Great Data Crash of 2025, we reconstructed video footage of Habitat 3. The voice in it of the then Secretary-General of United Cities and Local Governments Africa, Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi still rings clear: “Local authorities are now on the map, what we want next is to be around the table…we hope that people will realise that without local authorities, there’s no way we can implement the global agendas adopted in 2015 and 2016”. This was echoed by the World Mayor’s Assembly who asserted two key demands: The first that city, metropolitan and regional governments be involved in UN negotiations, with powers to make decisions independent of national government; and the second that mayors have access to international finance and that instruments such as a Green Climate Fund also be allocated to and handled directly by cities.

In 2036, with collective, participatory urban budgeting now commonplace and seamless networks between cities, it is easy to forget that only a few decades ago cities were primarily considered national hubs, managed by nation states. We in East and Southern Africa have especially benefited from the Ore to Information Fund through which finance raised from the last mining operations was invested in open access technology infrastructure. This has allowed us to have the fastest data connectivity in the world, bringing huge benefits for technological innovation and education, access to health information, for the reach of health and economic services and capacities and new resources for community dialogue and action.

This month we celebrate 68 years since the principle of the ‘right to the city’ was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre. UN Habitat 3 was a critical marker for those campaigning for this right. We take it as commonplace today, but respect that those early struggles were not easily won.

Championed by Brazil and Ecuador, the ratification at Habitat3 of a New Urban Agenda (NUA) made this the first internationally negotiated document to reference the right to the city and encourage nation states to enshrine it in their laws. Under the slogan “Cities for people, not for profit!” civil society from various campaigns against gentrification, privatisation of public space and criminalisation of homeless and vulnerable citizens lobbied for the inclusion of the right. They called for governments to put citizens before private sector interests in the city, building on the 2004 World Charter on the Right to the City and the 2010 UN World “Right to the City” Urban Forum in Brazil.

At that time, Brazil and Ecuador were the only two countries to have this right enshrined in law. Still the Habitat3 negotiations saw large parts of the right to the city excluded from the final document. It did not mention the ‘social function of land’ or ‘participatory approaches at all stages of the urban policy and planning processes’. These clauses were struck off during the drafting. The NUA was also non-binding. As we look back in 2036, we owe a debt to the global Right to the City movement that brought together civil society, local government and other actors around the world, including from health, who picked up the baton after Quito, to implement the principles of equity and inclusivity in the 2016 NUA. Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing had already by 2016 publicised the economic, social and environmental contribution to cities of women informal sector workers and Colombia’s waste pickers had already won a court ruling to block a waste management contract that did not provide opportunities for informal recyclers. We have seen others follow suit, including those living in slums, health activists from communities affected by pollution and urban waste, increasingly bringing previously excluded groups to the policy making and planning table, affirming their rights to a city that ensures wellbeing for all. This has not been easy, especially given the legacies we inherited from the early years of the 21st century of unpredictable weather, rising sea levels, pollution and waste threatening the ecosystems of all in our cities, of massive socio-economic inequalities, of destructive wars and of big population movements across countries. However we now fully understand that inclusion and investment in wellbeing is not only as a matter of rights and justice, but is vital for our collective survival.

We were fascinated to find in our excavated websites an account by Barcelona's first female Mayor (to think - that city is now on its fifth female mayor!). Writing after Quito, Ms Colau said that Habitat 3 saw women coming to the forefront of political change. She noted that “the 21st Century is the century of cities - in part because this is a moment of great political uncertainty at many levels. But within that uncertainty, we see empowered citizens asking to be protagonists, and the city is the place to do this.”

We are looking forward to hosting Habitat 4 this year here in our region in real and virtual space. We welcome all joining us in our increasingly inclusive understanding of ‘the city’ with all the people and connected spaces that are critical to healthy urban life. As we gather to debate new challenges, we are fortunate to reflect on the debates, advances and still unresolved issues from Habitat 3 that we have found, to reflect on where we reached in 2030 with our sustainable development goals, and to bring in the voice of all to craft our Agenda for Habitat 4.

This oped was sent in response to our invitation for reflections post Habitat III. This issue provides a range of resources and publications related to urban health. Please send feedback or queries on the issues raised to the EQUINET secretariat: admin@equinetafrica.org.

From global health security to global health solidarity, security and sustainability
Antoine Flahault, Didier Wernli, Patrick Zylberman, Marcel Tanner: Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2016;94:863.

The concept of global health security underpins the current framework for global preparedness and response to emerging infectious diseases. The Global Health Security Agenda –a collaboration between governments– was launched in 2014, aiming to make our interconnected world safe from infectious disease threats. The governments involved in the Global Health Security Agenda focus on strengthening their countries’ capacities for detection, response and prevention.

In the context of public health emergencies, the Agenda has received financial and political support from international organizations and almost 50 countries. However, there is tension between the aims of global health security and governments’ mandate to ensure national security. The 1994 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report first introduced the concept of human security, referring to security of citizens as individuals rather than that of the states in which they live. We posit that the use of the term global health security can have a negative unintended effect on the ultimate goal of improving health for all. There are three reasons why this term potentially privileges the security of the state rather than the security of individuals.

First, global health security, in its current use, is largely focused on protecting high-income countries against public health threats coming from low- and middle-income countries. Ebola virus, Marburg, Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, Rift Valley and Lassa fevers, originated in low- and middle-income countries. If the Agenda is used to prioritize global health risk depending on the origin of infections, resource allocation may become even more skewed towards high-income settings. To ensure that a health security agenda is an integral part of national and foreign policy of each country, political attention and coordination between national ministries is needed as well as support from the national security budget.

Second, global health security tends to emphasize disease containment to protect national security rather than the prevention of future local outbreaks. Disease containment is common practice in the control of emerging infectious diseases. A national security perspective often results in unilateral, neo-colonial and/or short-term solutions designed to protect national borders. For example, many countries and airline companies imposed travel restrictions during the 2013–2016 Ebola virus disease outbreak in western Africa, contrary to World Health Organization recommendations.

Third, we argue that respect for human rights and values such as equity and solidarity should underlie each national security agenda. Such values are consistent with the motives of many people who provide health services in public health emergencies. Health security agendas should aim to build resilience to future outbreaks of infectious diseases, and require a long-term systems approach based on surveillance and national health system strengthening.

Protecting the world from infectious disease threats requires that national governments share the responsibility of serving those most in need, wherever they live. We believe that the concept of global health security should be expanded to include solidarity and sustainability. In this way, we will be able to develop a long-term approach and overcome the limitations of current responses to global health emergencies.

This editorial appeared first as an open access editorial in the WHO Bulletin in December 2016 at n/volumes/94/12/16-171488/en/.

Wishing you progress towards health and justice in 2017
EQUINET steering committee

As usual this is a short newsletter, given the time of year. Our newsletter is now on its 190th issue and we appreciate the range of creative work reported in all the 16 years of its existence. The 245 editorials written by a range of people from community, civil society, parliament, government, technical and research institutions provide comment and reflection on a diversity of health issues and debates. The over 11000 entries in the 190 newsletters all available in a searchable database on the EQUINET website carry a wide range of ideas, experiences, evidence, analysis and voice from and on east and southern Africa. The newsletter database is a rich searchable resource of how policy and publication focus has shifted over nearly two decades and of whether writing on the region is increasingly being led from the region.

We continue to encourage you to document your work and to send us send your blogs, and links to your reports, papers, news, conference announcements, videos or other forms of information so the newsletter can assist to share experience, evidence and learning from work on health equity in the region. As we said last year, 'Until the lions write their story, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter'. We encourage you to roar even louder in 2017!

Please send your blogs, and links to your reports, papers, news, conference announcements, videos or other forms of information from your work on health in the region, and we will be happy to share it.

We look forward to working with you in the coming year and wish you a healthy 2017, and a thoughtful, steady and exuberant progress in our struggles for health equity. .

Farewell to a champion of health justice
Editor, EQUINET newsletter

Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban revolution, passed away on Friday 25 November. He was a towering figure and one of the defining leaders of the 20th century. Leaders across Latin America sent tribute. Chile's Michelle Bachelet called him a 'leader for dignity and social justice in Cuba and Latin America", while El Salvador's president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, said “Fidel will live forever in the hearts of those of us who fight for justice, dignity and fraternity.” As China’s official news agency Xinhua noted, he was “a pioneer in battling ... neoliberal globalisation, foreign debt and exploitation of natural resources.” CLASCO in Argentina pointed to his role, together with the Cuban people, of pointing to an alternative of a world "without injustices, without exclusions, without exploitation" ("Fidel era un hombre, como tantos otros. Pero Fidel se transformó, y lo hizo junto a las luchas del inmenso pueblo cubano, en un horizonte, en una promesa, en un destino utópico: el de construir un mundo sin injusticias, sin exclusiones, sin explotación; un mundo emancipado, liberado, solidario").

The transformation in Cuba was profound. Manuel Garcia Jr reflected the day after Fidel's death on the transformation he experienced first hand in 1959 Havana: "Every person, every place, every moment exuded the same sense of uplift. I was immersed in a national sense of freedom, and it soaked into my psyche and bones. This experience permanently magnetized my political compass, so that regardless of verbal arguments and logical constructs in later years, my compass always points my sympathies toward freedom for any people". The nearly 60 years since of struggle in Cuba, a small island of 11 million people, often battling powerful global forces, unquestionably generated some contradictions. Ahmed Kathrada in the Mail and Guardian notes that "history will always judge people differently based on who is writing it".

He also notes, however, together with many other voices from Africa, that Fidel Castro came from "a generation of leaders, who envisioned a more equitable society, based on mutual cooperation, especially between developing nations" and that he was one of the foremost supporters of Africa's liberation movements and anti-colonial struggles. The internationalism of Cuban people in Africa has been sustained to today: whether in the support by Cuban troops of Angola's resistance to an apartheid military attack in the 1970s, whether through providing medical education in Cuba for thousands of African doctors over many years, or sending many Cuban doctors to African countries, including the many who came to West Africa to help in the efforts to control Ebola in 2014/5. At the same time, Castro also pointed to the rift between rich and poor in African countries, as he did at the speech to the South African parliament in 1998.

Whatever the context and debates, Fidel was an unwavering champion of health justice, of the right to health and of progress in social determinants like literacy and food security. He was a driving force of a universal health care system in Cuba that is a responsible for making Cubans some of the healthiest people in the world. As the journal MEDICC noted in a tribute the day after his death: "Over the years, President Castro took an abiding interest in health and was at the forefront of promoting advances in health care, research and medical education: establishing rural hospitals and a national network of hundreds of community-based clinics, making prevention a cornerstone of training and service; generating extraordinary investments in biotechnology to develop novel vaccines and cancer therapies, and specialized services for Cuban newborns with heart disease. Finally, he considered the most significant “revolution within the revolution” to be the creation in the 1980s of the family doctor-and-nurse program, posting their offices on every block and farmland in Cuba. The outcomes of these efforts were not achieved by one man, but by 500,000 Cuban health workers, who were able to count on health as a government priority. Together, they faced dengue and neuropathy epidemics; and the scarcity of medicines, including for HIV-AIDS patients, after the collapse of the socialist bloc and tightening of the US embargo on Cuba in the 1990s. Their dedication has won a healthier nation".

It falls to us to continue the struggle for health justice with the same compass, solidarity and tenacity.

Vancouver Statement from the Fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research
Health Systems Global: Vancouver, Canada, 18 November 2016

From 14-18 November 2016, 2,062 delegates from 101 countries assembled in Vancouver, Canada, for the Fourth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research on the theme of ‘Resilient and responsive health systems for a changing world’. This year’s Symposium consisted of five days of 53 organised sessions, 248 oral presentations, 74 satellite and skills building sessions, 385 posters, and 155 e-posters. Social media played a great part in whipping up the spirit of engagement, before and during the Symposium. Blogs also played a role in generating energy before the Symposium; the most popular of these was a blog from the SHAPES thematic working group challenging the concept of resilience in health systems.

Since Cape Town, the world has shifted from efforts to achieve the MDGs to the launch of the SDGs, which maintain a focus on UHC, but call more strongly for a systems-orientated approach by embedding health in broader social and environmental perspectives. In support of these goals, there is even greater focus on research to reduce inequities in relation to marginalised and vulnerable groups. On the policy and implementation front, there has been a transition in the funding landscape from donor funding for interventions, towards emphasis on locally generated funds. In this context, the local production of health policy and systems research is also increasingly valued.

Several themes emerged from the discussion and debate during this Symposium. First, it is important to recognise the many meanings of resilience. Health system resilience and responsiveness is anchored in people living and working within their communities. But, we need to be cautious not to romanticise communities as resilient, when what they are doing is coping in difficult situations. Systems need to be resilient precisely so that the burden of such resilience does not fall on the most vulnerable in our societies. Health systems resilience needs to be qualified by an explicit focus on equity and social justice, and support the empowerment of the most vulnerable. Second, discussions amongst participants highlighted the importance of resilient and responsive health systems as ones which provide integrated, people-centred services, with a focus on primary health care as the frontline of routine services and outbreak response. Subnational actors, including communities, are reservoirs of resilience for health systems. Resilient health systems are those which operate from the “end-user back”, and not from the organisation forward. Nevertheless, governments have the responsibility for steering all actors – public and private – in the interests of the broader community.

Third, while some discourse on resilience emphasises health security, such a perspective can sometimes be counter-productive, and should be balanced with the protection of health rights and health system strengthening. Health security should be an inclusive concern of the entire global community, and never a reason to exclude or marginalize. Fourth, the resilience discourse should be positioned within achieving the SDGs and mobilising collaboration and leadership across sectors. This together with integration and a move away from vertical approaches will help achieve the sustainable management of health systems. Symposium delegates repeatedly stressed the importance of people and relationships, flexibility and the capacity to mobilize new resources. Fifth, the Symposium gave occasion to highlight the struggles of indigenous peoples against historic privileges, including in high income countries. This has received insufficient attention in the Symposia to date. People in high income countries have much to learn from the experiences of low and middle income countries as well as from their own indigenous or marginalized populations.

The Symposium identified several areas for action for HSG, for researchers, funders and policy makers.

The Fourth Global Symposium has allowed our community to hold a light to the concept of resilient and responsive health systems, recognising their importance for achieving UHC and the SDGs, while acknowledging the potential shortcomings. Resilience adds a useful lens to our existing concepts and approaches, but it does not replace or supersede them. The world is changing, and resilience and responsiveness are needed now more than ever. The accumulated knowledge we have as a community builds on the continuing Symposia agenda of improving the science needed to accelerate Universal Health Coverage; to be more inclusive and innovative towards achieving UHC; and to make health systems more people-centred. For the next two years, Health Systems Global as a community of practitioners and researchers will look to remain at the vanguard of defining the field of health policy and health systems, while impacting our broader communities, and improving our global society.

The full statement is found at http://healthsystemsresearch.org/hsr2016/wp-content/uploads/Vancouver-Statement-FINAL.pdf and further information on Health Systems Global and the conference can be found on the HSG website at http://healthsystemsresearch.org/hsr2016/