Access to medical care is social justice

14 September 2010 at 04:34 | 1488 views

By Moses Massa, Executive Director, New Initiatives for Peace, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Since independence, governments in Sierra Leone, with some respective institutions and citizens have struggled and failed in many areas to meet the expectations of an effective public policy and health needs.

Public access to health care is a requirement of social justice in many countries, and if thus, we should be clear about what kinds of care our state institutions owe us. We should be clear about what constitutes appropriate access to that care, given that there are many problems to this access. There is no place worth looking at the moment than Freetown’s main court building.

It is good to see the front of this building with its impressive Victorian design, arched balcony and lush small garden, with beautiful fresh flowers. Its elegance is graced by members of the judiciary in their most expensive, designer and executive outfit produced in London, Paris, New York and Rome to say the least. None can deny that the legal profession is one of the well paid in this country, and arguably, in some other parts of the world. Some members of our bench without exaggeration are well-off; some live in fine residence, as well as work in low cost but tidy chambers. We owe them a lot for their modest and awe inspiring outfit and the good job of fighting for justice under the often intense heat of the unforgiving sun. However, there is a dark side to this impressive accolade and beauty as not all that glitters is gold. It has to do with the filthy court environment members of the bench prefer to work and earn their often easy and hard cash.

The legal institution is known to set standards, be upright, hygienic and often the mirror of a country’s values and character. Defending and dispensing justice in that kind of environment speaks volume. It is an anathema to the very core values and rights the judiciary protects and promotes. It is high time we started saying louder, harder and faster why public health is a matter of justice and social order. Justice is the concept and practice of moral correctness based on law and fairness. Sanitary regulation is linked to the idea of social order, where health is peace and peace is wealth. Health, peace and wealth are the good basic conditions of people’s welfare in all aspects.
Sanitation basically is the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces. It is the hygienic means of promoting health through the prevention of contacting physical, microbe, biological or chemical waste hazards. Such wastes as human faeces and sewage leakage, like the one presently affecting the court environment, do cause health problems. It is disheartening, shameful and unbelievable that this sewage leakage with its percolating and suffocating smell has been affecting all those attending court sessions for several weeks now and there is none to amend it. Whose responsibility it is? Where are those working there? Are they all blind to see? Is their sense of smell dysfunctional? Strange!

The judiciary should set the example of dispensing justice in a clean and healthy environment. There is no denying of money’s importance in all legal matters but not at the expense of plaintiffs, defendants, accused persons and members of the public. In defending and protecting the fundamental rights of people, it is incumbent on them to know those persons and even other members of the public need to seek and get justice in a clean environment.
The mental and physical health of many people in this country; let alone crime suspects, is known to be especially poor. One could argue that public health in our justice and penal institutions is a socio-political endeavor which will actively promote change and improvement in our country, as well as its foreign image. Improving the health and wellbeing of people can reduce the series of violence and support effective strengthening of peace and justice related issues.
This article was not meant to denigrate or attack any one. Albert Camus once said: “A free press can of course be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad”. Our democracy should and has matured to a point where we are free to challenge the inaction of those who are in a position to do what is right for the general good.