Week 5

Healthcare: A Right or A Privilege?

As a premed student who aspires to devote the majority of her life to the medical profession, one must be confronted with the hot topic of whether or not access to healthcare is a basic human right or a privilege, especially since the recent passage of the health care plan by the Obama administration a few years ago. Healthcare as a social right is the topic of interest in chapter 6 of Paul Farmer’s “Pathologies of Power.” At the end of the chapter, Farmer asks, “Where will healers stand in the struggle for health care as a human right? …[e]ven in the most affluent countries, there is, in the global era, no hiding from the question—or from the imperative to respond” (179).

(2009) Orange: Has universal health care. Yellow: Attempting to obtain universal health care. Brown: Health care provided by US war funding. Grey: No universal health care.

I personally believe that the question of whether healthcare is a right or a privilege shouldn’t even be asked; of course health care is a right. Some opponents of the health care planned argued that health care is not guaranteed in the Constitution but without proper healthcare, one becomes deprived of the right to life. (In addition to the fact that the right to health is guaranteed as a universal human right.) During human catastrophies such as the Khmer genocide, health care was virtually eliminated.

However, I also believe that implementing universal healthcare isn’t as simple as Paul Farmer makes it out to be. Even if all healthcare professionals believe that health is a social right, determining priorities and accounting for the costs of technology and medicine for the entire world is a formidable task. With a population about to hit 7 billion, which and how many of the 7 billion can we really provide free healthcare for? Do we have sufficient resources to allow everyone access to modern technology and medication? The pessimist side of me says that even if countries like the United States abandon their neoliberal attitudes, there will always be losers due to a growing population and diminishing resources. However, we can attempt to try our best to modify policies to most efficiently implement global healthcare.

For example, take a look at this infographic that examines the differences between how much a country spends on health and the life expectancies of its citizens: http://infographiclist.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/17intriguinginfographicsaboutglobalhealth_4e6128acc22c4.jpg

-Jessica Heng


Healthcare as a Universal Right

In chapter six of Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power, he examines the healthcare system in the U.S., and the effects of health care being a commodity rather than a real service for the people. I personally believe that healthcare is a universal right. People have the right to live a long and healthy life without worrying about accruing a debt because of hospital visits. To hear people fight “Obama Care” is crazy to me. I’ve heard people claim that Obama’s health care reform is going to be like the death squads—rationing out health care. The decisions of the committee are going to be killing people left and right.  Yet people like to ignore the fact that only the wealthy can afford healthcare, thus the poor are dying due to the death squad committee that is serving the insurance companies. Rationing is already occurring, insurance companies “ration by price and income.” Some people don’t even have to be poor, to be denied coverage. People are already being denied help because they have a pre-existing condition.

The end result of all of this is structural violence. People without the means to pay for insurance on their own, or those born with health problems, are the ones hurting the most. The blame is cast on the poor and ill, since the thinking that seems to going around is that if they are poor they brought it upon themselves, and if we do anything to help them, we are only enabling them, and turning this country into a communistic country. When anyone tries to discuss the structural violence that occurs, the topic is switched to something absurd like death squads, Nazis, and communism, which then switches the talk to politics rather than human lives.

Though Obama’s health care reform is a step in the right direction, it is really health INSURANCE reform, where insurance companies cannot exclude people for pre-existing condition, and everyone will be able to own health insurance. But it is not universal healthcare; it is just a way to provide everyone with the means for affordable healthcare.

Article on the uninsured:


Water: Economics or Health?

In the article “Water Flowing North of the Border: Export Agriculture and Water politics in a Rural Community in Baja California,” the author Christian Zlolniski discusses how neoliberal policies allow for agricultural production to foster economic growth and employment opportunities but at the same time, water can be overexploited leading to water scarcity and consequently reduce water’s quantity and quality for residents. Production of fresh crops is promoted by international organizations such as the World Bank but the author argues that the universal human right of access to water is also threatened by economic development.

The author brings up a good point of putting one’s health before economic prosperity. Living in America, water is easily accessible so we don’t really think about water shortages. However, we need to realize that this is a major problem in other countries and that even though it is considered a universal human right by the United Nations, some people must walk for hours just to collect water. Sudan is a country that has been ravaged by civil war and genocide; what can be done to stop water scarcity? With a booming population, isn’t water scarcity inevitable? Although it is easier said than a done, countries must strike a balance between using water for economic growth and water for the health of its inhabitants because health and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

Check out the inspiring story of Salva Dut who founded “Water For Sudan,” a non-governmental organization that aims to create water wells in order to provide safe, clean water and improve living conditions in Darfur.

Their official website: http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/

-Jessica Heng

Water is a Human Right


I feel that many people are unaware of how our consumption practices have a ripple effect which can harm the lives of many. People then complain when there is a surge of migration to the States, when we are the ones that helped create the horrible conditions they were trying to escape. In Christian Zlolniski’s article, by farming tomatoes in arid lands, it is then taking water from the communities thus making water a scarce resource and causing friction between communities. Rather than providing water for everyone, people are set with limitations on what days they can use water.

To think of water as a commodity rather than a human rights, puts people that are poor at a huge disadvantage because they are unable to afford water, or even unable to invest in water stocks. As Zlolniski stated, corporations get huge subsidies when it comes to their water usage, but poor farmers still have to pay taxes and are even expected to pay when there is an increase in water taxes.

To deny people water is to deny people the right to live. The Namibia genocide of the early 1900s killed the Herero people for their lands and forced some into the dry dessert to die a slow death (starvation and thirst). How this is any different from what these huge corporations are doing to poor populations who are having their water taken and are then forced to pay high taxes for access to the water?

By not providing communities with clean water there is an increase in disease and illnesses people can get. In an article by Amnesty International, “an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five die due to diarrhea, 88% of these deaths are due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation;” these deaths can easily be prevented by everyone having access to clean water.


Amnesty International Article:


More Information on Namibia Genocide: