[News] In a World of Great Disorder and Extravagant Lies, We Look for Compassion

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Thu May 12 11:38:33 EDT 2022

In a World of Great Disorder and Extravagant Lies, We Look for 
Compassion: The Nineteenth Newsletter (2022)
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*In a World of Great Disorder and Extravagant Lies, We Look for 
Compassion: The Nineteenth Newsletter (2022)*

Francisca Lita Sáez (Spain), An Unequal Fight, 2020.

Francisca Lita Sáez (Spain), /An Unequal Fight/, 2020.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research 

These are deeply upsetting times. The COVID-19 global pandemic had the 
potential to bring people together, to strengthen global institutions 
such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), and to galvanise new faith 
in public action. Our vast social wealth could have been pledged to 
improve public health systems, including both the surveillance of 
outbreaks of illness and the development of medical systems to treat 
people during these outbreaks. Not so.

Studies by the WHO have shown 
us that health care spending by governments in poorer nations has been 
relatively flat during the pandemic, while out-of-pocket private 
expenditure on health care continues to rise. Since the pandemic was 
in March 2020, many governments have responded with exceptional budget 
allocations; however, across the board from richer to the poorer 
nations, the health sector received only ‘a fairly small portion’ while 
the bulk of the spending was used to bail out multinational corporations 
and banks and provide social relief for the population.

In 2020, the pandemic cost the global gross domestic product an 
estimated $4 trillion. Meanwhile, according to the WHO, the ‘needed 
funding … to ensure epidemic preparedness is estimated to be 
approximately US$150 billion per year’. In other words, an annual 
expenditure of $150 billion could likely prevent the next pandemic along 
with its multi-trillion-dollar economic bill and incalculable suffering. 
But this kind of social investment is simply not in the cards these 
days. That’s part of what makes our times so upsetting.

S. H. Raza (India), Monsoon in Bombay, 1947–49.

S. H. Raza (India), /Monsoon in Bombay/, 1947–49.

On 5 May, the WHO released its findings 
on the excess deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the 24-month 
period of 2020 and 2021, the WHO estimated the pandemic’s death toll to 
be 14.9 million. A third of these deaths (4.7 million) are said 
to have been in India; this is ten times the official figure released by 
the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has disputed 
the WHO’s figures. One would have thought that these staggering numbers 
– nearly 15 million dead globally in the two-year period – would be 
sufficient to strengthen the will to rebuild depleted public health 
systems. Not so.

According to a study 
on global health financing, development assistance for health (DAH) 
increased by 35.7 percent between 2019 and 2020. This amounts to $13.7 
billion in DAH, far short of the projected 
$33 billion to $62 billion required to address the pandemic. In line 
with the global pattern, while DAH funding during the pandemic went 
towards COVID-19 projects, various key health sectors saw their funds 
(malaria by 2.2 percent, HIV/AIDS by 3.4 percent, tuberculosis by 5.5 
percent, reproductive and maternal health by 6.8 percent). The 
expenditure on COVID-19 also had some striking geographical disparities, 
with the Caribbean and Latin America receiving only 5.2 percent of DAH 
funding despite experiencing 28.7 percent of reported global COVID-19 

Sajitha R. Shankar (India), Alterbody, 2008.

Sajitha R. Shankar (India), /Alterbody/, 2008.

While the Indian government is preoccupied with disputing the COVID-19 
death toll with the WHO, the government of Kerala – led by the Left 
Democratic Front – has focused on using any and every means to enhance 
the public health sector. Kerala, with a population of almost 35 
million, regularly leads in the country’s health indicators 
among India’s twenty-eight states. Kerala’s Left Democratic Front 
government has been able to handle the pandemic because of its robust 
public investment in health care facilities, the public action led by 
vibrant social movements that are connected to the government, and its 
policies of social inclusion that have minimised the hierarchies of 
caste and patriarchy that otherwise isolate social minorities from 
public institutions.

In 2016, when the Left Democratic Front took over state leadership, it 
began to enhance the depleted public health system. Mission Aardram 
(‘Compassion’), started in 2017, was intended to improve public health 
care, including emergency departments and trauma units, and draw more 
people away from the expensive private health sector to public systems. 
The government rooted Mission Aardram in the structures 
of local self-government so that the entire health care system could be 
decentralised and more closely attuned to the needs of communities. For 
example, the mission developed a close relationship with the various 
cooperatives, such as Kudumbashree 
a 4.5-million-member women’s anti-poverty programme. Due to the 
revitalised public health care system, Kerala’s population has begun to 
turn away from the private sector in favour of these government 
facilities, whose use increased 
from 28 percent in the 1980s to 70 percent in 2021 as a result.

As part of Mission Aardram, the Left Democratic Front government in 
Kerala created Family Health Centres across the state. The government 
has now established Post-COVID Clinics 
at these centres to diagnose and treat people who are suffering from 
long-term COVID-19-related health problems. These clinics have been 
created despite little support from the central government in New Delhi. 
A number of Kerala’s public health and research institutes have provided 
breakthroughs in our understanding of communicable diseases and helped 
develop new medicines to treat them, including the Institute for 
Advanced Virology, the International Ayurveda Research Institute, and 
the research centres in biotechnology and pharmaceutical medicines at 
the Bio360 
Life Sciences Park. All of this is precisely the agenda of compassion 
that gives us hope in the possibilities of a world that is not rooted in 
private profit but in social good.

Nguyễn tư Nghiêm (Vietnam), The Dance, 1968.

Nguyễn tư Nghiêm (Vietnam), /The Dance/, 1968.

In November 2021, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research worked 
alongside twenty-six research institutes to develop /A Plan to Save the 
The plan has many sections, each of which emerged out of deep study and 
analysis. One of the key sections is on health, with thirteen clear 
policy proposals:

1. Advance the cause of a people’s vaccine for COVID-19 and for future 
2. Remove patent controls on essential medicines and facilitate the 
transfer of both medical science and technology to developing countries.
3. De-commodify, develop, and increase investment in robust public 
health systems.
4. Develop the public sector’s pharmaceutical production, particularly 
in developing countries.
5. Form a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Health Threats.
6. Support and strengthen the role health workers’ unions play at the 
workplace and in the economy.
7. Ensure that people from underprivileged backgrounds and rural areas 
are trained as doctors.
8. Broaden medical solidarity, including through the World Health 
Organisation and health platforms associated with regional bodies.
9. Mobilise campaigns and actions that protect and expand reproductive 
and sexual rights.
10. Levy a health tax on large corporations that produce beverages and 
foods that are widely recognised by international health organisations 
to be harmful to children and to public health in general (such as those 
that lead to obesity or other chronic diseases).
11. Curb the promotional activities and advertising expenditures of 
pharmaceutical corporations.
12. Build a network of accessible, publicly funded diagnostic centres 
and strictly regulate the prescription and prices of diagnostic tests.
13. Provide psychological therapy as part of public health systems.

If even half of these policy proposals were to be enacted, the world 
would be less dangerous and more compassionate. Take point no. 6 as a 
reference. During the early months of the pandemic, it became normal to 
talk about the need to support ‘essential workers’, including health 
care workers (our dossier from June 2020, Health Is a Political Choice, 
made the case for these workers). All those banged pots went silent soon 
thereafter and health care workers found themselves with low pay and 
poor working conditions. When these health care workers went on strike – 
from the United States to Kenya – that support simply did not 
materialise. If health care workers had a say in their own workplaces 
and in the formation of health policy, our societies would be less prone 
to repeated healthcare calamities.

There’s an old Roque Dalton poem from 1968 about headaches and socialism 
that gives us a taste of what it will take to save the planet:

It is beautiful to be a communist,
even if it gives you many headaches.

The communists’ headache
is presumed to be historical; that is to say,
that it does not yield to painkillers,
but only to the realisation of paradise on earth.
That’s the way it is.

Under capitalism, we get a headache
and our heads are torn off.
In the revolution’s struggle, the head is a time-bomb.

In socialist construction,
we plan for the headache
which does not make it scarce, but quite the contrary.
Communism will be, among other things,
an aspirin the size of the sun.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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