The WHO (World Health Organization) has released its latest in a series of reports[i] on public health in 53 European nations, and presents this assessment through a focus on the social determinants of health[ii]. Rather than sounding an alarm or considering the possibility that epochal economic decline is underway which threatens the health of the public, it serves up tepid criticism of government policies that have resulted in surging poverty[iii] and high unemployment[iv], fiscal cuts to health and other social services, increases in suicide and a host of other declining health indicators deforming people’s lives in most –possibly all- of the countries examined. Put directly, the social determinants of health are being laid to waste in several European states and endangered in others, yet the report casts this as a few dark shadows on an otherwise bright picture.
I find the report psychologically dissociative, ethically compromised, and in an intellectual malaise. Sociologically, however, it makes sense: it is self-destructive to analyze or challenge[v] the political/economic system that funds your work, even if it is destroying what your organization was founded to analyze, protect and ensure. As such, this report represents a conflict-ridden and unstable posture of ignorance and subservience to political power.
Revealingly, the report takes virtually no notice of the portents of socioeconomic and political[vi],[vii]upheaval[viii] –like UKip and Golden Dawn- spreading through Europe.[ix],[x] Naïvely[xi], the report calls for slight reforms –like giving health ministers a “seat at the table” of austerity[xii] budgeting to make the case for “proportionate to need” funding cuts[xiii]– as sufficient to ensure, maintain or in some conceded instances restore a portion of the underlying fundamentals of the health of European populations now being sacrificed in the name of balancing budgets and debt repayment. The authors give every indication of having no inkling that their flaccid calls for a realization that too much austerity endangers the public’s health is too little too late and, in any case, will have zero influence on neoliberal policymakers.
Politically, then, this WHO[xiv] report offers no recognition, let alone opposition, to the class-based austerity imposed by neoliberal governments[xv]. Accordingly, this report personifies developing turmoil[xvi] in organizational mission and collective identity for health professions as the divergence between the imposition of neoliberal austerity measures and the mission of public health deepens. This compromised stance, of offering mild warnings about austerity while accepting it as a legitimate policy response, is part of a cultural phenomenon of an inability to democratically address genuine problems while offering rhetoric to reassure and soothe a public that is losing economic ground and its faith in government.[xvii] Read the rest of this entry »