Monday, March 24, 2014

Week 1: Health as a Human Right

After only two classes, my perceptions of health and development have already started to evolve and this post is just a personal reflection of my views on access to healthcare.  While discussing the various definitions of health, one of the concepts that was brought up was health as a human right.  I am a Canadian and though there is not much that we are willing to boast about openly, we do have a few things that bolster national pride.  Among them are hockey, maple syrup and our universal health care system.  Our system is far from perfect in many ways with long wait lists and an ever-growing need for more medical practionners, nurses and other health professionals.  However, it does give all of our residents equal access to primary health care services, emergency and specialists (outside of elective procedures), regardless of income.  Patients are first treated based on urgency and then in order of arrival/registration.  The overwhelming majority of Canadians strongly support the system, myself included.  In truth, there has never been any question in my mind that health is a human right.

It was always difficult for me to understand why a society or government would choose to have a private system or a joined public and private system.   Why divide up resources (health professionals, equipment, etc) in that fashion instead of based on need?  The only answer that I kept arriving at was that privatization could increase efficiency to optimize revenue and create competition between providers that may (and I emphasize may) benefit consumers.  But, I often felt that those systems were put in place at the demand of those in the higher echelons of society who want to be able to use their wealth to pay for superior care without the wait.  It was not until attending the first health and development class this semester that I was introduced to another reason for privately funded health care.  On a per individual basis, those who are wealthy and gainfully employed generally bring more money into a society through increased spending, higher taxes, investment and the work that they do.  Therefore, prioritizing the health of these individuals so they can continue to bring more wealth into their society and further fuel its economy could ultimately be considered as a more profitable use of health services.   

My personal preference for publicly funded systems instead of private ones will probably never change as I believe the true worth of an individual and therefore the value of keeping them healthy cannot be measured solely in output dollars.  Those in lower socioeconomic groups are already at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping in good health (due to the cost of gym memberships and healthy food, etc) and therefore are actually in greater need of support through health services.  I simply do not agree that society benefits more from keeping the wealthy healthy, everyone should have the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest and realize their goals.  However, I do feel that I have a more comprehensive understanding of the potential incentives behind privately funded health systems.  I have also come to realize through the class discussion that I will have to be careful of my own bias towards entirely publicly funded systems when working abroad as every country and society has different values.


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