Empowering access to the right to health
Of the 7.6 billion in the world, over four billion live outside the protection of the law. The legal empowerment movement is trying to rectify this injustice. Legal empowerment is about putting the power of the law into the hands of people who previously knew little about their rights, or who saw the law as something to fear. It can trace its roots back to 1950s South Africa, when grassroots advocates known as “community paralegals” began to help people resist apartheid. Today legal empowerment programmes across the world provide concrete solutions to deprivation and injustice, such as a lack of access to healthcare. It is a gross injustice when people suffer needlessly or die due to a lack of access to simple treatment or necessary drugs, purely because they are unaware of their right to access healthcare.
In Matimani village, in rural Mozambique, Angelina’s 17-month-old baby, Bento, tested positive for HIV. She was sent home from the clinic with no treatment for her son – the nurse said that given his CD4 count, he did not qualify.
Hortência, a community paralegal, visited Angelina at her home a month later as part of her community awareness activities and heard about the situation. knew that government policy and the treatment protocol for young HIV-positive children had changed. Bento should have been given medicine immediately because he was under five.
Hortência went with Angelina to see the HIV counsellor at the clinic. The counsellor had no idea that the national protocol had changed. Hortência then called the medical director of the district hospital -- and within two days an HIV clinician visited the clinic, briefed all staff on the new policy and put up a poster informing patients of the changes. Bento started his antiretroviral treatment immediately. Hortência very likely saved his life. Research shows that in developing country settings, 50 per cent of HIV-positive children under-two die if they do not receive treatment.
Angelina is forever grateful for the support that the community paralegal provided. “I was really worried,” she says. “But I didn’t know what to do. I thought it was normal to just wait. But now I have told my family and friends about the story and about Hortência. I have spoken about it in the community.”
Over the past five years Namati and its partners have worked with more than 65,000 clients to secure basic rights to healthcare and citizenship and to protect community lands and enforce environmental laws. Namati also convenes the Global Legal Empowerment Network, connecting over 5,000 individuals and 1300 groups from 150 countries. Together, they are building a movement to bring justice everywhere.