Global health activists' lessons on building social movements for Health for All

Connie Musolino, Fran Baum, Toby Freeman, Ronald Labonté, Chiara Bodini, David Sanders

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    BACKGROUND: The People's Health Movement (PHM) was formed in 2000 and drew inspiration from the Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care's 'Health for All' (1978). Since then PHM has been an active part of a global counter-hegemonic social movement. This study aimed to gain insights on social movement building, drawing on the successes and failures reported by activists over their experiences of working in the Health for All social movement to improve health, justice and equity. METHODS: Qualitative research methods were employed in this study to capture complex and historical narratives of individual activists, through semi-structured interviews and subsequent thematic analysis of transcripts. The research design and analysis were informed by social movement theory and literature on health activism as a pathway for social change. In this study we examine the semi-structured interviews of 15 health activists who are part of the PHM, with the aim of deriving lessons for strengthening movements for Health for All. RESULTS: This study locates the activists' narratives within a socio-political analysis of the global trends of late modern individualism and capitalist neoliberalism. This highlights the challenges faced by civil society groups mobilising collective action and building social movements for Health for All. The study found that within the constraints of the neoliberal socio-political and economic conditions which have caused the rise in social and health inequities, this group of long-term health activists have been nurturing alternative approaches to structuring society and building collective agency to improve health. CONCLUSION: The practical long-term experiences of the PHM activists examined in this study contribute to a better understanding of the processes and motivations that lead to and sustain health activism, and the dilemmas, strategies, impacts and achievements of such activism.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number116
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal For Equity in Health
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2020

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    • Civil society
    • Health activism
    • Health equity
    • Health for all
    • Neoliberalism
    • People’s health Movement
    • Social determinants of health


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