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International Health Workers for People Over Profit
In This Issue

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"We are not anti-establishment; the establishment is anti-us."
Attack on New Zealand health system
People triumph over profit
Confronting racism in health care
How liberals justify torture


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Vol.3 No.5
June 19, 2011

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"We are not anti-establishment;
the establishment is anti-us."

by Sergi Raventós - Catalonia

May 15 demonstration2


May 15, 2011 will be an historic date in the Kingdom of Spain. That day marked the emergence of a democratic, anti-capitalist movement in hundreds of neighborhoods, towns and cities throughout the country.

The movement began after a police crackdown in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and it spread to Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Salamanca, Murcia, Malaga, Granada, etc. Encampments have been constructed in the main squares of major cities to express growing outrage against the deepening economic crisis and those responsible for it.  

More than 20 percent of the workforce are unemployed, and more than 43 percent of young people are unemployed. These are the highest unemployment figures in Europe.

A full 63 percent of the population earns 1000 Euros per month or less ($1,438 USD).

There has been no relief from politicians who are widely seen as submissive to big business and banking institutions. The ruling parties are demanding that those who did not cause this crisis - workers, youth, unemployed, pensioners, immigrants - be made to pay for it.

Popular slogans leave no doubt about people’s concerns: “They call it democracy; we know it is not,” “Violence is charging 600 Euros a month,” “Together we can fight the markets,” “Stop the lies; we want democracy.”

The camps hold daily meetings to discuss politics and propose policies to increase democratic political participation, and social and economic justice.

The movement declares:

We have come here voluntarily and by free will. After the 15th of May demonstrations we decided to remain united and expand our fight for dignity. We do not represent any political party, and they do not represent us.

We are united in our rage, our suffering and our social insecurity which is caused by inequality. Above all, what keeps us together is our will for change.

We are here because we want a new society that puts our lives before any political or economic interest. We feel crushed by the capitalist economy, and we feel excluded from the present political system which does not represent us. We are striking for a radical change in society. And, above all, we aim to keep society as the sole driver of this transformation

They thought we were asleep. They thought they could keep cutting our rights without meeting resistance.

They were wrong.

We are fighting peacefully, but with determination, for the life we deserve.

Our future depends on us internationalizing the struggle, because the crisis and its problems are also international.

We are not anti-establishment, the establishment is anti-us.

See also  and

Sergi Raventós works in a mental health facility and is studying for his doctorate in Sociology. He is a member of Dempeus and International Health Workers for People Over Profit.

Attack on New Zealand health system

by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall - New Zealand

pharmacy 2
Wikileaks has revealed that the US is collaborating with Big Pharma to pressure New Zealand to abolish PHARMAC.

PHARMAC was established in 1993 to contain prescription costs. It is a world-renowned state agency and is currently exempt from World Trade Organization (WTO) anti-competition rules.

All this will change if our National-led government proceeds to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership with its US and Asian trading partners.

The power of bulk purchasing

A single agency that purchases medications for millions of people has the power to pressure pharmaceutical companies to cut costs. This is one situation where market competition does lower prices, as multiple manufacturers producing virtually identical drugs compete to sell their products to PHARMAC.

Medications on PHARMAC’s approved list are subsidized, so patients pay only $3 for each prescription. The formulary consists mainly of generic drugs, where they are available, and brand name drugs where the manufacturer has agreed to a volume discount.

If a drug company won’t agree to a discount, its drug doesn’t appear on the PHARMAC formulary.

Pfizer has refused to discount the price of its antidepressant Zoloft. Because patients must pay the full cost of a Zoloft prescription, it’s rarely prescribed in New Zealand.

There are exceptions. If medical research indicates that a new, non-discounted drug fills a clinical need, it will be included on the formulary as a “special authority” drug. That means the prescription will be subsidized only if the doctor fills out a “special authority” form certifying that the patient meets specific diagnostic criteria and has failed to respond to one or two comparable drugs on the formulary.

The envy of the world

Thanks to PHARMAC, New Zealand, unlike most of the industrial world, has been able to limit the growth of prescription costs to the rate of inflation – despite a significant increase in demand.

Not surprisingly, PHARMAC’s formation was followed by near constant litigation from drug companies, so that legal costs accounted for 18 percent of its budget in the early years.

The drug companies charge that New Zealand is failing to pay its share of research costs, which is a pretty self-serving claim, given the record profits the pharmaceutical industry reported in 2010 (averaging more than 15-20 percent of revenues), the billions devoted to marketing identical “me-too” drugs, criminal penalties for fraudulent business practices and exorbitant CEO salaries.

The Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership threatens to do what the pharmaceutical industry could not - open New Zealand to escalating drug costs and booming profits for the private sector.

Stuart Jeanne Bramhall is a retired American physician living in New Zealand.

People triumph over profit

 by Phoebe Leung - Canada


On May 24th, I attended an information session regarding the proposed development of a $10 million dollar hospice facility. The session was convened in response to the objections of a group of residents who live in a luxury condominium building near the proposed site.

The residents, who identify themselves as Chinese, oppose the hospice on the basis that it violates their cultural beliefs. They insist that a place connected with death will bring bad luck and ghosts. They are also concerned that a hospice in their neighbourhood will devalue their million-dollar condominium apartments.

Not surprisingly, these not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) concerns met with strong, negative reactions from the public. Unfortunately, there were also racist comments, telling these residents to "go back home."

I have cared for a loved one in a hospice. This experience fueled my passion to advocate for those in need of palliative care.

We should not discriminate against those who are nearing the end of life. Stigmatizing terminally-ill patients as bringing “bad luck” should be unacceptable in our society.

It angers me that the development of any hospice would be delayed by such discriminatory beliefs.

The main reason why these beliefs influenced the development process is because rich people use their financial power against the more vulnerable members of society.

Many wealthy immigrants from China invest in multi-million dollar properties in Vancouver. Developers bend to the beliefs and demands of these buyers in order to retain and attract more such investments.

This time they didn’t get their way.

Public support for the hospice was expressed through an online petition with over 400 signatures, as well as sympathetic television and newspaper reports.

Along with other hospice supporters, I attended the information session and publicly stated my view. I also voiced my concerns to local news reporters, although the interview did not air.

Our efforts to support the hospice were effective, and the construction of the hospice was approved.

In this case, we succeeded in putting people over profit.

Phoebe Leung works as a Registered Nurse in Vancouver.


  by Mel Zinberg and Robert Kingsland - Canada

cluster bombFilm Review: Bombies

Healthcare workers are encouraged to learn about people’s experiences, to better relate and care for them. However, we aren’t encouraged to watch documentary films like Bombies, which highlights the effects of antipersonnel weapons. We should be.

Many of our patients are former soldiers, refugees and other people affected by war. Instead of funding healthcare, our governments are spending vast sums on weapons that maim and kill, generating misery and hatred.

Bombies compassionately tells the story of people living in Laos, whose country was carpeted with US cluster bombs between 1964 and 1973.

This  war may seem like a footnote in history, but it remains a living nightmare in Laos. Moreover, the US and other nations continue to use cluster bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The tennis-ball sized cluster bombs dropped on Laos, also known as “bombies,” are designed to kill individuals.

Hundreds of bombies are packed into a single canister. These canisters are dropped from a plane and then open in mid-air, dispersing bombies over an area the size of several football fields.

Each bombie contains some 300 metal fragments, and if all the bombies in a canister detonate, approximately 200,000 metal fragments are propelled in every direction.

Cluster bombs release their fragments at high velocity. When they strike human flesh, they create pressure waves that do massive damage to tissues and organs. A single fragment can explode the intestines or rupture the spleen even when that fragment enters the body some distance from these organs.

Cluster bombs fail to detonate 10 to 30 percent of the time and can stay hidden in the landscape for decades. In Laos, an estimated 10 million or more unexploded bombies remain as a deadly legacy of the US war.

cluster bomb2Farmers tilling their land are often maimed or killed when striking bombies that settle below ground. Children are frequent victims because they are attracted to the bombies’ bright colours and odd shapes.

Bombies shows us what patients and communities suffer as a result of these barbaric weapons. It should be widely shown as part of our efforts to stop the diversion of healthcare funding to weapons of war.

Bombies is available from Bullfrog Films, the American Friends Service Committee
or telephone 617.497.5273.

Mel Zinberg and Robert Kingsland are Registered Nurses in Vancouver, British Columbia


Confronting racism in health care

by Eileen Prendiville - USA

 health inequalities2 

Book Review: White, A.A. & Chanoff, D. (2011). Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care. Harvard University Press.

This powerful new book by Dr. Augustus A. White is a must-read for all health professionals.

Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care is part memoir and part analysis of how unconscious stereotyping by healthcare providers results in inferior treatment and outcomes for people of color, women and those with a different sexual orientation.

Growing up in segregated Memphis, Tennessee, White experienced racial discrimination first-hand. Sometimes it was overt, but often it was more subtle.

His father was a physician who died when White was 8-years old. Recognizing the importance of education, his mother and aunts sent him to a boarding school that accepted Blacks.

He attended Brown University and became the first African American to graduate from Stanford Medical School.

As his residency in orthopedics drew to a conclusion in 1966 and heeding the call to serve his country, White enlisted in the US Army knowing that he would also gain plenty of surgical experience.

White spent a year working in a makeshift trauma unit in Vietnam, and he was horrified by the carnage he witnessed. He began to question whether the war was worth all the death and destruction on both sides, and he ended up treating wounded Vietnamese and Americans alike.

White noticed a much higher percentage of wounded African-American soldiers than he would have expected. At that time, African Americans represented approximately 11 percent of the US population.

Even though the army had been integrated for years, it didn’t mean that everyone was equal. African Americans were drafted more often due to their socioeconomic status, and they were also more likely to be chosen as point men (out in front) when they went on patrol.

After becoming the first African-American surgical resident and then surgery professor at Yale, White later became the first African-American department head at Harvard.

White was keenly aware of prejudices among medical students and physicians, as well as disparities in care. He became more and more interested in trying to improve the diversity of medical schools by increasing the recruitment of non-white students.

In 2002, when the Institute of Medicine published Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, the medical establishment was shocked.

This ground-breaking book outlined studies showing health disparities between African Americans and Caucasians. Both African Americans and Hispanics had lower rates of cardiac surgeries, fewer hip and knee replacements, and fewer kidney and liver transplants. They were also offered less pain medication after fractures.

Since retiring from surgery, White has continued to advocate for diversity and cultural-competency training in medical schools as well as promoting minority students into medicine.

Eileen Prendiville works as a staff nurse in a San Francisco hospital. She belongs to the California Nurses Association, a member union of National Nurses United.


How liberals justify torture

 by Susan Rosenthal - Canada

physician tortureIn “The Tortured Patient: A Medical Dilemma,” authors Chiara Lepora and Joseph Millum argue that “sometimes being complicit [with torture] is the right thing to do.”

The authors concede that “Torture is unethical and usually counterproductive. It is prohibited by international and national laws.” However, they dance around this prohibition by re-defining the torture victim as “a patient in need of treatment.”

To accede to the requests of the torturers may entail assisting or condoning terrible acts. But to refuse care to someone in medical need may seem like abandoning a patient and thereby fail to exhibit the beneficence expected of physicians.”

This is a liberal justification for torture.

Just because medical professionals are asked to assist with torture does not transform the torture victim into a patient and the torture chamber into a medical consulting room.

Conservative, right-wing logic accepts torture as necessary, pointing out that torture is widely practiced in one-third of the world’s nations.

Liberal logic condemns torture, but accepts it as a “reality” to which one must adapt. Liberals talk left in order to move right.
In Disciplined Minds, Jeff Schmidt explains that professional education has a dual purpose: to teach specific skills; and to mold a managerial class to serve capitalism.

When the professional training system does not malfunction, it selects and produces people who are comfortable surrendering political control over their work, people who are not deeply troubled by the status quo and are willing and able to do work that supports it.” (p.144)

In Professional Poison (2009)  I explain that,

When moral pressure fails to solve the problem, professionals will “adapt to reality” and become the managers of misery." (p. 10)

Should we assist at a premeditated beating or rape to help the victim survive the assault? Of course not. That would make us accomplices to a criminal act.

Likewise, anyone who assists at torture is complicit in the crime, regardless of their reasons for doing so.         

See also: Bahrain medical staff 'tortured for confessions'

Susan Rosenthal is a Toronto-area physician and the author of POWER and Powerlessness (2006), Professional Poison (2009) and Sick and Sicker (2010).


International Health Workers for People Over Profit (IHWPOP) has joined the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. We oppose Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and support a single state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all.


All of the material in this newsletter is made available to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons Code. Readers are welcome to share and use this material for non-
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