I spent last weekend at school participating in a Southern African simulation game. Two sections of Southern African politics classes were divided into a dozen groups: African National Congress (ANC govt), common people, trade union, businesses, United States, etc. The goal of the game was for each team to advance its position in South Africa and for students to experience the complexities of working within an international economy and making decisions that are beneficial for both their individual team’s interests as well as for the people of the region.
As a member of the white business team, I had the difficult task of creating policies that would not only financially advance my team but also improve public opinion. The idea that rich white people hold a special responsibility to aid the less privileged is a global one, and in order for our team to be embraced by the common people, we had to create an image of caring and generosity.
Between the common people group and their Occupy South Africa movement and the government group’s general inaction, my team decided to create the Caring Corp foundation which would allocate charitable funds to various causes including education grants, building hospitals, tackling HIV/AIDS, etc.
One of the most surprising realizations throughout the game was the sheer neglect of all health-related concerns. South Africa has the one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world, with 5.6 million infected in 2009. And yet the ANC ignored the problem and said that they had more urgent concerns within the context of the game. South Africa has a history of AIDS denial– former President Thabo Mbeki claimed that the cause of AIDS was not a virus, but poverty; this led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.
Participating in this simulation game, I began to think about the right to health, and the parties responsible for maintaining that right for all people. If health is indeed a human right, is it then the government’s obligation to protect this right by providing access to healthcare? In our game, which accurately mirrored reality, the government was unresponsive to concerns over the growing AIDS problem and other access to health matters that affect the common people. In our attempt to improve our image within society, the white businesses teamed up to give back to the community, but in reality, how much can a few billionaires (and their billions) really do? Is it our responsibility to provide some short term relief (I say short term here because the nature of our charity depends upon rich peoples’ kindness, which like other kindnesses, is a temporary and fleeting resource).
This game taught me that health should not be a charitable endeavor in which the many poor must rely on the few rich for support. It also taught me that governments are constantly bombarded with urgent issues that need attention–and chronic lack of access to health take a backseat to economic and foreign affairs.