The Right to a Mask
Health and wealth are closely linked in Germany. This is especially evident and reinforced in the pandemic. Although health care is a human right and a German fundamental right, not all people have access to sufficient information, protective masks and health care. Therefore, we need a change of perspective from a compulsory masking to a right to a mask.
Languages: The official language is German. Additionally, several dialects are spoken as well.
Inhabitants: approx. 83 Mio.
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In addition to economic inequality, the pandemic also creates or intensifies social discrimination, which must be made visible in public discourse. This article, however, only deals with the issue of classism using the example of compulsory masks.
The 2-Class-System of Provision of Medical Care in Germany
In our neoliberal market economy, even health has become a commodity. In the course of the economisation of hospitals, the solidarity principle is being replaced by a neoliberal market principle.1 Although most people in Germany have health insurance, the quality of medical services is also dependent on one’s own purse. Low-income earners, for example, are expensively insured through statutory health insurance, while high-income earners, the self-employed and civil servants can afford private health insurance and thus better medical care. This creates a two-class system of medicine, which is exacerbated by the fact that people affected by poverty are more often ill, as the health report of the AOK Rhineland/Hamburg shows. For example, social welfare recipients suffer more often from diabetes.2
The target groups of social work are particularly affected by the disadvantages in the health system. The Corona pandemic highlights and reinforces the economic inequality in our society and makes it clear that only money protects against illness. As an example, the FFP2 mask can be mentioned, which, in contrast to the surgical mask, not only protects others, but also oneself.3 Furthermore, the risk of infection is of course much higher when travelling by public transport than when travelling in one’s own car. This leads to unevenly distributed risks of infection and the risk of a severe course of covid-19 among people affected by poverty.4
Change of Mind: The Right to a Mask
At this point it becomes clear that we need to rethink. Much more than a mask obligation, we need a right to masks. Because health is not only part of the economic, social and cultural human rights (right to non-discriminatory and adequate health care), 5 but also a German fundamental right (Art. 2 para. 2 GG: „Everyone has the right to life and physical integrity“). Not everyone can afford medical masks and the masks that are currently on the market do not necessarily meet the specified standards and therefore do not necessarily protect. In addition, medical masks are disposable and need to be changed regularly to provide adequate protection.6 Human rights apply universally to all and are independent of financial circumstances. Therefore, it is important that medical masks are available free of charge for all people!
In addition, all people must be given easy access to information. This includes education on the protective function of medical masks, their relevance in pandemic response, their correct use and information on which labels declare compliance with the standards.7 This must be done in easy language, as well as in text, sound and images, in order to be understandable for all. It is also important to provide information in several languages, to use different, easily accessible platforms, to provide consistent information and to clarify misinformation.
The example of the compulsory mask clearly shows the social problems that the current pandemic management entails and how important a change of perspective and a reframing are – from the compulsory mask to the right to a mask, because there is a right to the protection of health. It is clear that the mask can only be one building block in the solution to the crisis. It is logical that the mask can only be one component in the solution to the crisis. Equally important is the financial support for those who are in need because of the pandemic. While a few benefit from the pandemic,8 the financial challenges are enormous, especially for families living on Hartz IV.9 Hygiene articles (mask, disinfectant) have to be bought, school materials for children have to be printed out, day-care and school meals are no longer available and many mini-jobs have been lost. When it comes to cushioning the effects of the pandemic, people affected by poverty are forgotten by politicians. For example, the Corona supplement of 150€ on Hartz IV only came nine months later,10 while emergency aid for the car industry of three billion euros was already available last year.11
The pandemic poses different challenges for our profession. On one hand, we have a mandate towards our addressees who are particularly suffering from the consequences of the pandemic. Poverty and disease are closely linked. At the same time, we have a political mandate that calls on us to stand up for the professional ethics of social work and human rights – for example, for the right to masks. In order to be able to stand up for our profession and its demands in a powerful way, the individual struggle has to be bundled and we have to unite and organise.
You want to now more?
Then listen to the podcast of our fellow students, which is currently being produced as part of a seminar. You can find the link to the episodes since June 26th 2021 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter under the name „Right to Mask“.
Cara Meffert, Anna-Lena Habicht, Jonas Körbach, Josefin Fahnert
Bündnis Krankenhaus statt Fabrik (2020), Krankenhaus statt Fabrik. bedarfsgerecht gemeinwohlorientiert. Das Fallpauschalensystem und die Ökonomisierung der Krankenhäuser – Kritik und Alternativen, S. 29, https://www.krankenhaus-statt-fabrik.de/53187 (zuletzt abgerufen 25.03.2021).
AOK (2020) AOK-Gesundheitsreport. Diabetes und sozialer Status hängen zusammen, https://www.aok.de/pk/fileadmin/user_upload/AOK-Rheinland-Hamburg/07/Presse/37_PM_Gesundheitsreport_2020.pdf (zuletzt abgerufen am 25.03.2021).
Weisenburger, L./Wolf, Christian (2021), FFP2-Masken: Tipps für Privatpersonen, https://www.apotheken-umschau.de/krankheiten-symptome/infektionskrankheiten/coronavirus/ffp2-masken-tipps-fuer-privatpersonen-726201.html (zuletzt abgerufen am 19.04.2021).
BR24 (2021), #fragBR24: Erkranken arme Menschen schwerer an Covid-19?, https://www.br.de/nachrichten/deutschland-welt/fragbr24-erkranken-arme-menschen-schwerer-an-covid-19,SIln2Ne (zuletzt abgerufen 19.04.2021).
Michael Krennerich (2020): Gesundheit als Menschenrecht. In: APUZ 46-47/2020 Weltgesundheit. Link: https://www.bpb.de/apuz/weltgesundheit-2020/318302/gesundheit-als-menschenrecht.
Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (o.J.) Hinweise des BfArM zur Verwendung von Mund-Nasen-Bedeckungen, medizinischen Gesichtsmasken sowie partikelfiltrierenden Halbmasken (FFP-Masken), https://www.bfarm.de/SharedDocs/Risikoinformationen/Medizinprodukte/DE/schutzmasken.html#:~:text=2.-,Medizinische%20Gesichtsmasken,Kunststoffen%20und%20sind%20mehrschichtig%20aufgebaut (zuletzt abgerufen 12.04.2021).
DPA (2020), Trotz Corona-Krise: Superreiche werden noch reicher, https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/wirtschaft/corona-milliardaere-reichtum-100.html (zuletzt abgerufen 12.04.2021).
Bräuer, Elsbeth (2020), Werden die Armen in der Coronakrise vergessen?, https://www.br.de/nachrichten/bayern/werden-die-armen-in-der-corona-krise-vergessen,S2Nlotv (zuletzt abgerufen 12.04.2021).
Piekarz, Peter (2021), Wann wird der Corona-Zuschlag auf Hartz IV ausgezahlt?, https://www.hartziv.org/news/20210211-wann-wird-der-corona-zuschlag-auf-hartz-iv-ausgezahlt.html (zuletzt abgerufen 12.04.2021).
Pinzler, Petra (2020) Hast mal `ne Milliarde, https://www.zeit.de/mobilitaet/2020-11/autoindustrie-corona-krise-hilfspaket-milliarden-klimakrise-5vor8 (zuletzt abgerufen 12.04.2021).
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