Building a Movement for Health

Mobilising for the first People’s Health Assembly – PHA (INDIA)

Region: South Asia

Language: English

Source: material collected as part of the PHM global action-research project “The contribution of civil society organisations in achieving health for all”

Author(s): JSA (PHM network in India)

Summary: Story of how the mobilisation towards the first People’s Health Assembly (Dhaka, 2000) took place in India. Roots of “one of the most extensive pre-conference campaign activities”: excellent tradition of progressive academic scholarship (expose the problem), large number of innovative models of community health care (health for all is possible). Challenge: extend this understanding beyond intellectuals and NGOs, gain popular support to place HFA in the political agenda of the nation (“taking health care issues to the streets”). Actions: involving new networks (also not so involved in health, e.g. literacy workers network) and strengthening existing ones → alliance against globalization and its adverse impact on health; networking networks (mutual support and reinforcement, new ideas and possibilities for future action); resource sharing (program content, financial and infrastructure resources; each one with what they had), in almost all states and at the national level (beyond knowledge, skills and finances, also new confidence and new optimism were shared: warmth of peer recognition, increase in public recognition); combining advocacy with community action (given for some organisation, not at all for others who made a clear policy decision in addressing service delivery or advocacy; overall this synergy increased the number of networks involved and enhanced the credibility and outreach of the whole process); autonomy, flexibility and coordination (coordination committees and working groups at district, state and national level; organisations were welcomed and encouraged to take independent activities; all national coordination committee decisions were viewed as guidelines by states, with room for individual states/organisations to opt out or do it differently). Activities: building a common understanding (5 books written/edited through participatory process + people’s health charter); the district level process (5-book set + model questionnaire; district resource group, resource groups in each block to conduct a dialogue with people in 30 villages + visits in PHC centres and health staff using questionnaire as a guide → local health charter then brought to block convention > district convention > state convention); public awareness campaign (different in each district; including workshops, seminars, people’s dialogue, surveys and conventions; sale of the five books; poster campaigns; traveling street theatre, rallies and processions; media coverage weak; targeted doctors, few in numbers but key as resource persons and for creedibility); people’s health trains (long distance trains, interaction while on board!); National Health Assembly (culmination of the campaign; over 2000 delegates; participtory and consensus building process among the 18 organisations); beyond the Calcutta and Dhaka assemblies: need for an organizational form which retains a mix of coordination and autonomy and allows for frequent consultation and mutual support; advocacy for policy changes (immediate as well as long term) based on a set of well defined objectives; a few well-chosen coordinated programmes that would extend the outreach of the PHA network; if programmes also help people cope with the health crisis that would lend credibility to the efforts for policy changes.

For more information on this experience, please write to Amit Sengupta and/or to T. Sundararaman at

Key practices: relationships; decision-making, structure and organisation, sustainability; advocacy, campaigns, communication; participation, community action; networking, alliances and cooperation, resource sharing; knowledge generation; popular education

Read the full report here