Comprehensive health check

Dr Wendy Savage reviews Socialist Register 2010: Morbid Symptoms - Health under Capitalism (Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds) Merlin Press, 2009)

January 31, 2010
2 min read

As a newcomer to the Socialist Register I found this a fascinating and illuminating book. The 19 authors come from nine different countries, from North America to China, Finland to Tanzania, and from diverse academic disciplines. The essays are well-referenced, making it a useful source for activists who are fighting the privatisation by stealth of our NHS.

Colin Leys starts off with a critique of the argument that the increasing life expectancy that began in the 19th century was a result of the growth of capitalism. He discusses the way new drugs and research changed health care in the 20th century, and ends with a look at how big business is currently infiltrating health care in England. He, like myself, dismisses the argument that the demand for health care is infinite.

Several chapters tackle inequalities in health, the commodification of health care, marketisation in Europe and the problems facing those in the US who want to see radical reform of their ailing, expensive and inequitable system.

Paula Tibendage and Maureen Mackintosh look at the appalling maternal mortality rate in Africa and the failure of attempts to lower it. They argue for a systemic way to tackle this longstanding problem, which requires a culture shift towards the value of women in society. Robert Albritton describes the way the food industry contributes to the epidemic of obesity while a quarter of the world’s population has insufficient food – a hidden epidemic of starvation.

The sections on global health policy, public health, the WHO ‘Health for All’ initiative and contributions about China and Cuba are all informative and thought-provoking. Lesley Henderson’s analysis of the role of TV medical dramas throws a new light on these popular series. And, lastly, Julian Tudor Hart considers ‘Mental health in a sick society’, an answer to Prozac Nation.

I thoroughly recommend this book for all those who care about health and our NHS. It is educational but also easy to read.