Experiences in Latin America, lessons from the Thumb of the Americas: the right to health is built through social movements

Iván Méndez Sandoval, Mauricio Torres-Tovar


Social movements in the defense of human rights have a long and important history. Since the days of the conquest, human rights have been central to Latin American demands. Looking back, one might even say that the struggle for human rights lies at the core of Latin American history. This makes it essential for us to understand the history of prior social movements that have either assured the fulfillment or human rights or – at least – prevented their violation. With respect to health, Latin America offers a variety of experiences showing how social mobilization can assist in creating health policies and health care systems that guarantee the right to health.

This article describes the journey that El Salvador (America’s “Tom Thumb”) began in the late 1990s. A broad coalition of social movements, community groups, unions, and citizens blocked reforms designed to privatize Salvadoran public health services. They also advanced a participative agenda to establish a national health system and promote pro-health social policies. Without question, this experience has much to teach us about the struggle for health rights in Latin America. One key lesson is that social organizations and movements can protect health rights while also promoting initiatives that change policy, systems, and institutions in a way that protects the universal right to health.

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Editorial Offices:

Department of Family and Social Medicine
Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center
Bronx, New York, 10461

Asociación Latinoamericana de Medicina Social (ALAMES)/Latin American Social Medicine Association:
ALAMES, Southern Cone Region, Cassinoni 1440 – 802, CP 11200 Montevideo, Uruguay.
ALAMES, Mexico Region, San Jerónimo 70 – 1, Col. La Otra Banda, CP 01090, México, D.F.