Public Health Program

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We support health initiatives that are based on evidence and reflect the values of inclusion, human rights, and justice.
The Public Health Program works to strengthen the capacity of marginalized populations to advocate for better health policies and practices. We also push for greater government accountability in health care.

Public Health Program

Throughout the world, people who face stigma and discrimination are often left with substandard or no health care.

  • In Eastern Europe, ambulances routinely refuse to answer calls for help from Roma communities.
  • In countries of the former Soviet bloc, people with mental disabilities are forced to live in remote and dilapidated institutions, without access to education or health care.
  • In Asia, people who are addicted to drugs are locked away in "rehabilitation" centers where they are flogged, chained to their beds, and forced to perform unpaid labor—with no genuine treatment in sight.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, women who are living with HIV are sterilized without their consent. 
  • In many countries worldwide, people with AIDS or cancer are left to suffer in excruciating pain, without access to affordable, essential medicines such as oral morphine.

The Open Society Public Health Program supports marginalized populations to fight discrimination and protect their fundamental rights. The program aims to build societies committed to inclusion, human rights, and justice, in which health-related policies and practices reflect these values and are based on evidence.

The Public Health Program consists of 10 core projects and initiatives and is primarily active in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southern and Eastern Africa, Southeast Asia, and China. It has limited engagement in Latin America and other regions as part of its global advocacy efforts.

The Public Health Program includes the following projects and initiatives:

Access to Essential Medicines Initiative

The Access to Essential Medicines Initiative engages in grantmaking, capacity building, and advocacy on three areas: promoting national and international laws, policies, and practices that safeguard access to medicines; fostering new thinking and action on needs-driven pharmaceutical innovation; and using existing legal and policy frameworks to improve access to medicines at the country level.

Accountability and Monitoring in Health Initiative

The Accountability and Monitoring in Health Initiative seeks to strengthen meaningful and sustained engagement by affected communities in the development, implementation, and monitoring of health budgets, policies, programs and practices; promote government accountability to citizens; and foster an informed and open dialogue about the governance of public health systems, provision of health services, and advancement of health and rights.

Global Health Financing Initiative

The Global Health Financing Initiative works to ensure that global funding for health is raised, allocated, and used in ways that meet the health needs of marginalized persons, strengthen civil society engagement in decision-making, promote and respect human rights, and lead to greater accountability and transparency.

Health Media Initiative

The Health Media Initiative seeks to build the capacity of civil society organizations to effectively use media to advocate on key health issues that impact marginalized populations. Through ongoing technical assistance and training workshops, the initiative provides organizations with the tools they need to strengthen their capacity to use media, including the press, social media, and new communications technologies.

International Harm Reduction Development Program

The International Harm Reduction Development Program works to advance the health and human rights of people who use drugs. Through grantmaking, capacity building, and advocacy, the program aims to reduce HIV, fatal overdose, and other drug-related harms; to decrease abuse by police and in places of detention; and to improve the quality of health services. The program supports community monitoring and advocacy, legal empowerment, and strategic litigation.

International Palliative Care Initiative

The International Palliative Care Initiative works to improve end-of-life care for patients and their families, with a special focus on vulnerable populations including the elderly, children, and patients with cancer or AIDS. The initiative aims to integrate palliative care into national health care plans, policies, and systems of care. It also supports palliative care education for health care professionals and advocates for increasing access to essential medicines for pain and symptom management.

Law and Health Initiative

The Law and Health Initiative supports legal strategies to advance the health and human rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups worldwide. The initiative works to develop individual and organizational leadership in the field of health and human rights, pilot innovative access to justice tools as health interventions, advocate for rights-based legal protections that improve health, and leverage sustainable funding for other health and human rights efforts.

Mental Health Initiative

The Mental Health Initiative aims to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities and mental health problems are able to live as equal citizens in the community and to participate in society with full respect for their human rights. The Mental Health Initiative focuses on ending the unjustified and inappropriate institutionalization of people with disabilities by advocating for the closure of institutions and the development of community-based alternatives.

Roma Health Project

The Roma Health Project works to advance the health and human rights of the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. The project focuses mainly on grantmaking and advocacy efforts, including strengthening the capacity of Roma organizations and activists. The project does not fund health services or health education activities.

Sexual Health and Rights Project

The Sexual Health and Rights Project promotes human rights-based approaches to advancing the health of sex workers and transgender individuals. The project often aims to develop, pilot, and disseminate information on innovative approaches to improving the health of sex workers and transgender individuals in order to integrate these approaches into wide-scale health programs and plans.