More than one thousand activists, academics and students from over 60 different countries gathered at the historic University of Western Cape for the third global assembly (PHA3). The historic call of “amandla” , used during the struggle against the apartheid, accompanied many of the plenary presentations.
I, as well as many other participants, felt that there were far too many formal presentations and very little time allocated to debates, exchange across regions and planning the next actions. At times I felt I was attending one of the nowadays frequent conventional global health conferences, with the difference that people were wearing jeans instead of suits.
The best plenary took place on the last day. Prof. Jaime Breilh from Ecuador gave a devastating account of how current public health programs and goals, such as the ones addressing nutrition and food security, are lagging so far behind of the ongoing acceleration of accumulation of capital that is destroying and contaminating water and food sources around the world. Large-scale land grabbing in the southern continents by large corporations is making the goal of food sovereignty implausible.
Mark Heywood (from South Africa) gave a very uplifting account of the many goals and services we still need to campaign and mobilize for, which might not be directly related to healthcare services but essential to improve health. He informed the audience about the next campaign in South Africa to improve the conditions of toilets in schools as an issue of relevance for the right to education and right to health. Finally, Abhay Shukla (India) gave an account of how marginalized communities in India are mobilized to monitor local healthcare services and entitlements and demand accountability from authorities.
The assembly concluded with a call for action that did not satisfy all participants. Clearly, some people wanted more concrete actions and less rhetoric. I personally think that although a “call for action” is important, it does not mobilize people on its own. A clear goal and a path for action, combined with collective indignity and solidarity makes us move.
PHA3 gave us a big show of solidarity. I was inspired and overwhelmed by the several hundreds of local volunteers from young to older, who helped all participants and made us feel so welcome. I later found out that they themselves were also activists. Finally, we all owe a big thanks to the PHA3 organizers and all the volunteers: PHA3 was a great demonstration of how to achieve a goal through collective action. Amandla to PHM!