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International Health Workers for People Over Profit
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Issue #4
January 10, 2009

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Healthcare not Warfare!

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by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

What are our social priorities?

The amount of global resources devoted to war indicates that our primary goal is to destroy ourselves.

In 2008, the world spent $1.5 trillion on warfare, 48 percent of which was spent by the United States. Over 40 percent of US tax dollars is spent on the military, compared with just 3 percent on social programs.(1)

Since 2001, US military spending has more than doubled, and the rise in US military spending is driving the escalation in global military spending.

Who decides to devote our resources to war instead of solving social problems and developing human potential?

It can only be the rich and powerful people, who are determined to keep their obscenely unequal share of the global wealth.

The vast majority of humanity would never make such a choice. They would say that the wealth produced by human hands should be used to improve people's lives, not kill and maim them.

As long as we allow the warmongers to dominate our world, they will fill it with deprivation, death and the threat of global annihilation.

The resources currently devoted to war could eliminate world poverty. They could provide every child with a good education. They could provide every person on the planet with clean water, sanitation, good food and healthcare. They could restore our environment. More than that, our decision to put people first would create a world of peace and prosperity.

We have two urgent tasks. We must dismantle the deadly war machine. And we must organize a very different social system, one that puts people first.

Susan Rosenthal works as a physician-psychotherapist in the Toronto area.

 

Israel Bombs Health Service in Gaza

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by Patricia Campbell - Northern Ireland

I felt great sadness when I learned the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) building was destroyed by Israeli bomber jets on New Year’s Eve.

The four-story building overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in the northern part of Gaza City. With 150 employees, the Programme is supported by international donors and was fast becoming a centre of excellence in providing psychological therapies and treatment of trauma-related illnesses.

In June, 2007, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza, allowing no one in or out of the area without its permission.

Last October, the World Health Organization and the GCMHP organized a conference, “Siege and Mental Health – Walls vs Bridges.” Health workers from all over the world attended to share their expertise on how a siege can affect mental health.

As a Community Psychiatric Nurse working in Belfast, I was scheduled to present a paper showing how 30 years of war in Northern Ireland has damaged minds and generated major mental illness.

The conference participants were denied access to Gaza, despite our protest at the Erez border. To get around this problem, the conference was conducted by video link between Ramallah City in the West Bank and participants in Gaza.

After the conference, I maintained contact with GCMHP staff. I looked forward to a continuing exchange of ideas and learning from one another. I was highly impressed with their innovative and progressive service delivery, their empowerment programmes, their attention to mental health and staff training needs. I had high hopes that we in Belfast could follow by example.

The loss of the GCMHP is especially acute as the death toll rises in Gaza and hundreds of thousands of people are severely traumatized.

After viewing the destroyed building, Dr Ahmad Abu Tawahina, the Director of the GCMHP, announced that the Programme was suspending its services indefinitely because “every metre traveled is a risk, as Israeli air strikes continue over Gaza.”

Israel targets medical personnel

On 31 December, medical crews attempting to treat a wounded victim from Jabal Kashif in northeast Gaza were hit by helicopter fire. Dr. Ihab Madhun, medic Muhammad Abu Hasireh and the injured victim were all killed.

On January 3,  after the home of the Dabbabish family in Sheikh Radwan was bombed, a medical crew entered to evacuate the wounded.  The house was bombed again, and medic  Ayyad Ahmad was critically wounded.

On January 4, an ambulance belonging to the Al Awda Hospital in Beit Lahiya was hit by helicopter fire. Arfa Abd al Daim, a senior volunteer medic was killed and two other medical personnel were critically injured.

On January 4, a tank fired on an ambulance attempting to evacuate a family in Tel Alhawa. Inass Fadil Naim, Yassir Shabir and Rifaat Abdel Al were all killed.

Our first priority must be to stop Israel’s barbaric war. Our second priority is to rebuild Gaza and the GCMHP.

TAKE ACTION!

Demand that your government press for an immediate stop to the Israeli bombing.

Join a protest at the Israeli or American consulate nearest you.


Patricia Campbell works as a community psychiatric nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also president of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland and a founder of the UNIVERSI health workers’ union.

 

Single-Payer Advocates Prepare to Fight

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by Eileen Prendiville - USA

Advocates of a single-payer medical system in the US, riding on the energy created by Obama’s election, met in San Francisco on a cold, rainy Sunday before the holidays. Over 200 people attended the event. The groups represented included unions, progressive democrats, seniors’ organizations and neighborhood groups.

Mark Leno, newly-elected California State Senator serving San Francisco, Marin and Southern Sonoma County, announced that he would re-introduce SB-840 early in 2009. SB-840 – California’s single-payer healthcare bill – was passed by California’s legislature twice and vetoed both times by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Leno spoke about the growing grassroots movement in support of single-payer. He emphasized the need to educate families, friends and neighbors to correct the misrepresentations of government-funded health care perpetuated by the insurance industry and free-market forces that care only for profit.

Support is also growing for HR-676 - for a single-payer medical system at the national level.

On January 10, unions are organizing in St Louis, Missouri to plan how to pressure the Obama Administration to prevent single payer from being placed on the back burner.

January 15 is being organized as a national call-in day to Congress members to ask them to support HR-676.

Participants at the San Francisco meeting were encouraged to sign up for these and other actions. They were also urged to send postcards to Obama, write letters to newspapers and attend various educational events.

As the Obama Administration begins its tenure, we single-payer advocates have much work ahead of us.

Eileen Prendiville works as a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Nursery at a large private hospital in San Francisco. She is an activist for the California Nurses Association and a member of Health Care for All, a state-wide organization promoting single-payer health care.

 

Condemn Torture: Boycott the I.M.A.

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Patricia Campbell interviews Dr. Derek Summerfield - Oct. 30/08

Campbell: Dr Summerfield, you have expressed concern that Dr Yoram Blacher, longtime President of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), was recently appointed President of the World Medical Association (WMA), which is the official international watchdog on medical ethics. What are your concerns regarding this appointment?

Summerfield: In 1996 Amnesty International concluded that Israeli doctors working with the security services “form part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill-treated and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical ethics”.

There is a mountain of published material pointing the same way in the context of torture as state policy in Israel. Yet Blachar and the IMA have remained consistently silent, as well as rebuffing and indeed abusing those who express concerns by calling them “anti-Semites.”

Campbell: The 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, which forbids the participation or collusion of doctors with torture, is a WMA document, yet Blachar is on record in the Lancet as supporting the use of “moderate physical pressure,” the Israeli euphemism for torture. How can he be appointed to this position and what are the implications?

Summerfield: How indeed! This makes a mockery of the whole idea of the WMA. The implications are, as with Blachar’s previous involvement with the WMA, to ensure that Israel (the IMA is a WMA member) receives no scrutiny or challenge in relation to torture and to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Campbell: You have called for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association. How do you think the public and groups concerned with human rights can highlight and protest Blachar's appointment?

Summerfield: Efforts over many years to appeal to the IMA and to our medical and academic counterparts in Israel have been unavailing, and the WMA is sewn up. Either we walk away or we take on other kinds of principled action. In South Africa the academic boycott is credited with helping to bring the professions to their senses. We can protest this appointment by publicising wherever possible the continued use of torture by Israel and the lamentable collusion of Blachar’s IMA.

Campbell: Finally, do you think international networking will be of benefit regarding this issue? For instance the recent coming together of healthcare professionals from all over the world to address a conference in Gaza made international headlines. How can we make this an international issue?

Summerfield: International networking is very much underway on these issues, facilitated by email. There are also links- whether solidarity or practical provision- with health professionals and others in Gaza and the West Bank. Right now Gaza is being subjected to a siege and, deploying the traditional weapon of the besieger, hunger. We must speak out to break the silence that affords a sense of impunity to Israel and morally corrupt institutions like the IMA.


Derek Summerfield is a London-based Consultant Psychiatrist. He is an honorary senior lecturer at London’s institute of Psychiatry and a teaching associate at the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. His address, "Medical Ethics in Conflict Zones," was delivered to the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and World Health Organization conference, "Siege and Mental Health: Walls vs Bridges," on October 28, 2008.

 

Just a Little Ecstasy, and I'll be Fine!

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by Sandra L. Jacob - USA

I was thinking this morning of all the horror stories I have listened to over the years.  When I was a new therapist and overwhelmed with them, I would repeat them to others to dissipate some of the evil knot of energy created in my soul.  They would look at me with fear in their eyes, then disgust, then skepticism, and say, “Do you believe that?  I don’t believe that,” lips clamped shut in self-righteous conviction.

Now, with more experience, I can usually let these stories go, but some of them linger, aching and hollow.  The Persistence of Memory, the famous painting of limp watches by Salvador Dali is, I suppose, a depiction of the way memories remain intact, if somewhat softened and melted by time.  Trauma memories, however, seem to be burned into the mind, much as an image is burned onto film in old-fashioned photography, remaining there as scars, like the ravages of strip mining or forest fires on the landscape.

On CNN the other day, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was talking about treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with the street drug Ecstasy. 

I was reminded of an LSD study done on alcoholics in Southern California.  They rounded up alcoholics who lived on the street, skid row bums as they used to be called, and signed them up for the study, as if these poor lost souls who would have sold their mothers for a dry place to sleep and a bottle of cheap wine had the capacity to sign an informed consent – if there even was ‘informed consent’ in those days.  They used LSD on these men and women who proceeded to go mad, use hard drugs, and commit suicide in large numbers. 


I listened to Dr. Gupta’s report with skepticism, wondering if Ecstasy would cure the 80-year-old woman who is still haunted by the searing memories of her grandfather ejaculating between her legs when she was five years old. Would it help the child who watched her father beat her pregnant mother until she miscarried? Would it help the soldier on the aircraft carrier, who watched the man in front of him chopped into pieces by a propeller that spattered brains and bone and blood all over him?

If Ecstasy could cure these horrifying memories in my patients, would it also spare the rest of us from having to hear their soul-killing stories? Or would we just numb-out to tragedy and cruelty?

A homeless man comes to his session in spite of the rain and the cold.  I congratulate him on showing up, and he reminds me that the shelter sends them out the door at 7AM and doesn’t let them return until 4 or 5PM. Coming to therapy is a haven from the elements.  

His long red face looks hopeless, and he doesn’t have much to say, but he describes his hopes of getting a place, and persuading his youngest son to live with him, and maybe starting a business selling used furniture out of a rented garage.  

He tells me of the young boy addicted to heroin who steals to feed his habit, needing five bags just to get up in the morning, hoping to find a dollar here or there so he won’t feel sick from withdrawal, no family to take care of him.  

He tells me of the children who go to school from the shelter, of the thugs who come in and steal anything they can to sell on the street, of the people who have been kicked out of the shelter because their time is up, sleeping in alleys in the city with just a blanket or a piece of cardboard to cover them.  He looks more and more haunted as the session wears on, and I feel his hopelessness.

Is it possible that all of these ills could be cured by Ecstasy? If so, why don’t we all give up trying to make the world a better place and go score some? 

Just a little Ecstasy, please, sir, and I'll be fine.

Sandra Jacob is a writer and licensed clinical social worker who has been treating traumatized people for twenty years. She practices in Hartford, Connecticut.

 

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