Right to Health Movement Building Through a Global Vote

By Ankur Asthana, Associate in Global Health & Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Co-Founder of Article 25

Published December 9, 2014

As we approach the new year, many of us in global health will be keeping an eye on the new post-2015 development agenda. Recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon released his synthesis report on the post-2015 goals where he committed to keeping intact all 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the UN’s open working group. While this and other issues are hotly debated, one thing seems clear: the amount of conversation the post-2015 agenda has generated is far greater than anything that took place around the development of the Millennium Development Goals. From in-person consultations to online “Twitter chats,” the post-2015 agenda has brought together different voices in ways that present interesting models for improving broad-based participation and movement building within global health.

One particularly interesting model that has emerged is the My World 2015 vote. This initiative is a global vote conducted online and offline that seeks to bring the priorities of ordinary citizens to the UN’s post-2015 agenda. The vote asks people to select six priorities that matter most to them and their families. Voters can then choose among 16 priorities ranging from “better job opportunities” and “action taken on climate change” to “equality between men and women” and “better health care.”

Since its launch in 2013, the My World 2015 vote has become the largest survey ever undertaken by the UN, with more than 6.4 million votes in 193 countries to date. Well over 3.8 million of the votes have been collected offline through paper ballots to ensure even the most digitally disconnected could participate. Of those that have voted, 48% are female, and more than 67% are from countries ranked “low” and “medium” on the Human Development Index.

The vote results show some good news for those of us who are working to advance global health equity. “Better health care” comes out as the second overall priority, just behind “a good education” and just ahead of “better job opportunities.” Yet, because of the broad nature of the priorities listed, the vote doesn’t provide an answer to what “better health care” specifically means to people.

This question is something being taken on by Article 25, a people’s movement for the right to health with which I work. The Article 25 movement was launched in October of this year by more than 15,000 advocates who came together to hold the first ever Global Day of Action for the Right to Health. Since then, Article 25 has been working to launch a Global Vote for global health, which will enable people to vote on the global health solutions that are most important to them.

The vote will be held from January 1 through February 28, 2015. The solutions people will vote on will be ones that get at the root of the current global health crisis: fixing drug patents laws so medicines are more accessible or increasing public financing for health so more people can afford health services. Similar to the My World 2015 vote, the Article 25 Global Vote will also be made available online and offline through paper ballots, and will seek to ensure gender equity and participation of those living in low income communities. Unlike the My World vote, however, the results of the Article 25 vote will not just be used as a survey for input into high-level meetings. Instead, the solution that receives the most votes will then become the focus of an advocacy campaign—powered by thousands of Article 25 activists—to win concrete improvements in people’s lives.

As we have learned in speaking with the My World 2015 team, carrying out such a vote requires an enormous amount of logistical and operational organization. To do this, we’ve modeled our efforts after “get out the vote” initiatives often seen in political elections. We are recruiting “vote captains” who are assigned to specific communities, and whose work is managed by a group of vote coordinators and directors. Our hope is that through such a model not only can we ensure a broad range of participants, but also reach those who are most directly affected by inequities in global health.

Perhaps as important as the results of vote, though, are the longer-term effects of such an effort. Just as political campaigns often mobilize people to support not just a candidate but a certain set of values, such a vote could mobilize thousands of new people to support the right to health. This base of people could be a new and powerful force not only for advancing specific global health solutions, but also for advancing global health equity as a whole.

Note: All My World 2015 vote data presented here was taken from http://data.myworld2015.org/ (accessed Dec 4, 2014) and a “5 Million Votes Brief” prepared by My World and the End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign.