Making it Politic(al): closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity Through Action on the Social Determinants of Health

Anne-Emanuelle Birn


The anniversary of the publication of Closing the Gap in a Generation (CGG) offers a moment to reflect on the report’s contributions and shortcomings, as well as to consider the political waters ahead. The issuance of CGG was not the first time the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the problem of global inequalities in health. Numerous analysts and advocates have compared CGG to the 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata. Some see CGG as a continuation of Alma-Ata; others malign it for paying insufficient attention to the principles, background documents, and lines of action proposed in the Alma-Ata declaration.

We might understand the two reports as bookends to 30 years of brutal global capitalism, punctuated by the “lost decade” of the 1980s, the end of the Cold War, and, more recently, the implosion of global finance. This period saw the publication of two seminal neoliberal health manifestos –the World Bank’s 1993 World Development Report and the WHO’s 2002 Commission on Macroeconomics and Health report. Both feature the term “investing in health” in their title, conveying “a double meaning—investing [through “cost-effective,” narrow, technical interventions] to improve health, economic productivity, and poverty; and investing capital, especially private capital, as a route to private profit in the health sector.”

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