A keynote address to the NGO Forum for Health at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, May 15, 2000, available from HealthWrights for US$5.00, postage included.

This paper looks at poverty and poor health in the Northern industrialized countries and at the widening gap between rich and poor, especially in the United States. It relates this growing disparity to the power of giant corporations and wealthy interest groups, which have undermined the democratic process through vast donations to elect politicians who will do their bidding. As a result, the social progress following World War II has been cruelly reversed, to the point where public assistance to the needy has been drastically reduced. For example, one out of four children in the US lives in poverty, and 43 million Americans have no health insurance. Racism in the US also contributes to poverty and ill health. The mortality rate for white babies is 8 per 1000. For black babies it is 18 per 1000.

The paper shows how the inequitable US economic system of “growth for the rich at all costs” has been exported world-wide. It is imposed on poor countries by the World Bank, IMF and WTO through Structural Adjustment Programs and unfair trade policies.

Finally, the paper makes clear that to achieve a healthy, sustainable world, participatory democracy must be achieved in the US. Important first steps are via election campaign reforms, watchdogging of corporate greed, and well-organized mass protests with a strong educational component (such as the “Battle in Seattle.”)