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Education And Debate

Equity, poverty and health for all

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 19 April 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1187
  1. Kenneth C Calman, chief medical officera
  1. a Department of Health, London SW1A 2NS

    What is health for all?

    The concept of “health for all” provides a vision of what might be achieved if the potential for improving health is realised. It is about having a life with meaning–one that is particularly relevant when poverty is discussed. Many of the issues that really matter in improving the public's health come under this heading. They include the emphasis on health, the importance of equity, the relevance of partnerships, and the need to involve patients and the public in health.

    The WHO was not the first to use the slogan Health For All. In 1941, Julian Huxley, in Picture Post, a weekly British magazine, wrote a prophetic article entitled “Health For All.” In it he called for “a healthy diet for all, everyone to have a chance to reach known health standards, public health as a positive service, health put on a family basis, a real family and population policy, and child welfare centres started everywhere.” The National Health Service in the United Kingdom, set up in 1948, embodied many of these principles.

    The WHO Health for All initiative began in Almaty, Kazakstan, in 1978 with a declaration that emphasised the importance of equity, economic and social development, and of participation by the people in the process of improving health–and the crucial role of primary care. It encouraged each country to formulate national policies and strategies for health. To those who were around at the time it was a period of great vision and aspirations. The regions of the WHO took up the challenge, and in 1984 the European region launched the 38 targets for the region as a whole. The WHO is in the process of revitalising the strategy–a revised version will be completed by 1998. Around the world new ideas are being considered which will take Health for …

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