The Covid-19 pandemic has put to the forefront the global connectedness of our societies whilst revealing and exacerbating the inequalities and violence shaping these very dynamics. From this understanding, the one-week Global Health Summer School of the IPPNW and the Charité Universitätsmedizin sought to explore the role of the interconnections between globalised capitalism, inequality and health. Thus, from the 16th to the 22nd of July, 28 participants met within the Alte Pumpe in Schöneberg to reflect on the ethical and political implications of these issues.
Such a process requires different perspectives and subjectivities; on matters such as global inequities and health systems, plural voices ought to be taken into account. Hence, the participants of the programme were doctors, international relations students, researchers in social sciences or just about to finish their medicine formation. Various regions of the world were also represented, with students coming from Bolivia, Nepal, Sudan, Germany, France or Zimbabwe, to only cite a few.
This week’s programme approached the complex, broad and contentious themes at hand through three different lenses, which very often intertwined and completed each other: the theoretical, the global, and the personal. Firstly, a lot of theory was provided through different lectures and workshops. We touched on notions such as globalisation in relation to postcolonialism and decolonialism with Mihir Sharma. Anuj Kapilashrami introduced the effects of the economisation of health systems worldwide due to a constant evolution of the neoliberal logic, whilst Vicroria Saint took the time to precisely explain and discuss what is
encompassed by the term “global health”. After considering these heavy and difficult topics, we also were introduced to theories and statistics on post-growth and de-growth with Winne van Woerden and Arpita Bisht, enabling us to realise that there exists alternatives to our economical systems, and that it is possible to work towards societies defined by care, empathy and solidarity.
Secondly, the school kept a global focus throughout the week; both in terms of the subjects covered and the lecturers invited. As mentioned previously, (global) health systems cannot be studied without taking into account plural perspectives and voices. Therefore, Lauren Paremoer and Andreas Wulf discussed the vaccine apartheid, illustrating the way the pandemic has exposed the global divides of our world society through the unequal distribution of access to Covid-19 vaccines. Angelika Claußen reflected on her experience at IPPNW in order to provide us with insights on public health considerations in times of war and crises. This resonated with the work of Paolo Balladelli, who underlined the way Covid-19 responses ought to take into account different contexts and populations, and especially those regarded as vulnerable. The Global Health Summer School thus introduced us not only to many different theories and ideas, but also to particular national and local contexts, through the work of different scholars, professionnals and activists from different countries and institutions who all shared a willingness to deconstruct the current neoliberal and colonial paradigm defining global health.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the summer school was centered around personal experiences. One of the most famous quote of feminist theory is that the “personal is political”. This week illustrated how this quote can be reframed in two different ways: not only is the personal political, but the personal is also global, and the global is personal. For that reason, numerous workshops and lectures were held asking us to bring in our personal experiences and perspectives. With “The Pandemic and I”, we individually reflected on the way the Covid-19 outbreak affected our lives, relationships and politics before sharing it with the others, amazed by the way we could all relate to each other despite coming from very different professional and geographical backgrounds. Personal stories were shared to shed new important and insightful lights on complex situations: Dr. Elif Turan talked about her story as a doctor and activist for Kurdish people in Turkey, illustrating the reality of the pandemic and state repression in Diyarkbakir. Tareq Layka, a Syrian dentist, explored the way global politics are so defined by a neoliberal rhetoric that the health and situation of Syrian people has completely been overlooked within international responses to the pandemic. Our personal stories also got to be intertwined and discussed within the numerous workshops held by the participants of the school, or when considering the emotional consequences of activism for change or the mental health consequences of the pandemic. As well as this, two afternoons were dedicated to a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop coordinated by Mathilde Tomasella in order to use our bodies to respond but also process all the newly gained knowledge and information. To understand the intersections between global capitalism, inequality and health is not something that just happens sitting in a lecture and taking notes; it also comes when acting in certain ways with the others, screaming in the middle of the room and then bursting into laughter. Again, for all of us this week, the personal was the global and the global was the personal.
To conclude, the Summer School started with this very simple yet infinitely broad question: what lessons can we draw from the Coronavirus pandemic? By listening to other voices - the ones of the teachers, the ones of the organising team, the ones of our peers - and by acknowledging the pressing need to fight global inequities, what became clear is that we were not going to leave the school with clear answers. What we learnt, however, is that it is possible to ask better questions. As we were wrapping up and sharing our experience of the week with the others, someone noted how ironic it felt to see us all still smiling and laughing after all the complicated matters we had tackled throughout the week. However, one lesson from the Global Heaht Summer School is that fighting against global inequalities and working towards a decolonisation of Global Health also comes with the construction of a caring and solid community. After all, we will not ask better questions and work towards a safer, more equal, deconstructed and decolonised global world alone. We will do it together.