Our conviction that health care is a human right is born of our service to communities and our daily struggle with a grim reality – every minute of every day, another 30 people die of diseases that we know can be prevented and treated. That's more than 43,000 needless deaths a day, more than 15 million a year. It is also a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted more than half a century ago, which proclaimed that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care." Through the Institute for Health and Social Justice, PIH works to make that right a reality by mobilizing resources, by informing and influencing policy, and by helping to build a movement to fight for health and social justice.

The Institute for Health and Social Justice

The Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ) is the advocacy and policy arm of Partners In Health. Founded in 1993, using the proceeds of Dr. Paul Farmer's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Award, the mission of the Institute is to analyze the impact of poverty and inequality on health, and to use these findings to educate and train students, lay people, academics, donors and policy makers. Using research and education, the institute works to advocate for and implement policies that will bring about greater equity and social justice.

In 2006, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Medical Director of Partners In Health, assumed the role of the director of the institute. She is assisted by Partners In Health’s Policy and Advocacy Manager Donna Barry, and Arlan Fuller, Policy Director of the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s School of Public Health. In 2007, the Institute was given a generous award from the Skoll Foundation. We are deeply grateful for their recognition of this important aspect of PIH’s work.

Methods and means of advocating

The IHSJ is engaged in a broad array of advocacy activities to inform and educate the public on matters of health and social justice.

The Institute has written, compiled or edited three books documenting the health effects of policy and social inequality on the marginalized, poor and vulnerable: Women, Poverty and AIDS (1996, re-released in 2006), Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor (1999), and Global AIDS—Myths and Facts (2002). 

In addition, the IHSJ works to synthesize and publicize the research findings in the fields of public health, infectious disease, anthropology, and social medicine that are published by PIH and collaborators from the other three academic “pillars" (Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Brigham and Women's Hospital). The articles from these “four pillars” analyze the current state of health and human rights in resource poor settings, evaluate and present the outcomes of PIH work in the field, and support the dissemination of a model of healthcare that incorporates social justice and human rights.

The IHSJ also creates space for dialogue and the exchange of ideas. It has sponsored lecture series, conferences and meetings on health and social justice issues, including health care in prisons, the social effect of epidemic diseases, structural violence, and the link between food security and health. The goal of these events is to build community and develop consensus around these critical issues. The annual Thomas J. White symposium, also sponsored by the IHSJ, also addresses critical topics such as the Rwandan genocide, access to HIV care and treatment, juvenile justice, and racism.

Education of young people has always been a key function of the IHSJ. Since its inception, the IHSJ summer internship program has attracted students from all over the world who contribute to the scholarly research and core PIH activities that support the IHSJ’s work.  Many of our interns continue to be involved in PIH and all continue in the struggle for social justice.

Lastly, the Institute’s foundation rests on the strong belief that the voices of the communities we serve must be heard as policy is created.  Therefore IHSJ advocacy engages decision-makers in governments, legislative bodies, and non-governmental organizations. By participating in Congressional hearings and briefings, speaking on panels of experts, and in discussions with concerned legislators, we encourage approaches to funding and program planning that are both responsible and responsive.

Primary advocacy issues for 2008 and 2009

Currently, the IHSJ is focusing its efforts on four critical issues:

  1. HEALTH WORKER CRISIS: Currently, the world has a grossly insufficient number of health care workers to address the health needs of the populations in resource poor settings.
  2. FOOD SECURITY: The lack of food security (the ability of all members of a community to access enough nutritionally adequate and socially acceptable food for an active, healthy life) is the most common underlying risk factor for poor health in the populations served by Partners In Health.  
  3. HAITI: For centuries, Haiti has born the brunt of misguided foreign policy and international assistance, which have prevented democracy from flourishing and impeded social sector development.
  4. FUNDING FOR GLOBAL HEALTH: Ensuring the reauthorization and/or fiscal stability of the new funding sources is important in helping to guarantee the right to health for all individuals. These sources include the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM).
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