Health for All at 40 – Seminar Report

Posted on 4 February 2019

Joao Nunes and Alex Medcalf reflect upon the trajectory of 'Health for All' forty years after Alma-Ata, at a time when the SDG agenda and the WHO leadership are pushing towards reenergizing the idea of universal health care.

On Wednesday 30th January 2019, Dr Joao Nunes and Dr Alexander Medcalf delivered a seminar as part of the Centre for History in Public Health's lunchtime series at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The seminar focussed on Health for All at 40, and why this promise has gone unfulfilled. The event drew upon Nunes and Medcalf’s research as part of their Wellcome Trust Seed Award, ‘Community health workers in Brazil and the global movement for universal health coverage’.

The seminar began with reflections on the WHO’s recently released community health worker guidelines, which this marks a landmark in this history of community health worker programmes, but what issues require further exploration and discussion. Dr Medcalf explored how an aspirational vision of primary health care (PHC) and community health workers had been influenced by the WHO’s public information strategies and the need to 'sell' these approaches around the world. This ultimately met with problems, chiefly how to used 'model examples' to best effect, and how to align aspiration with the delivery of PHC. Dr Nunes then brought the story up the present day, reflecting on examples from Brazil’s community health worker programme.

The discussion amongst the standing-room only audience was lively and extended beyond the seminar’s advertised end time. You can read more about Nunes and Medcalf’s research in their open access article ‘Visualising Primary Health Care: World Health Organization Representations of Community Health Workers, 1970–89’, published in Medical History (Volume 62, issue 4) which is available to view online via Cambridge Core.