“Socialism is the best prophylaxis!”
The health care system of the German Democratic Republic
Although it existed for just 40 years, the German Democratic Republic (DDR) was able to construct a fundamentally different health care system. The establishment of socialist property relations produced the preconditions for this endeavour. Questions of health were uniformly subordinated to the state and its democratic decision-making structures, and a prophylactic, that is, preventative, perspective became a leading objective.
This text examines the general character of the DDR’s health care system, tracing its development along particular central fields. The programmatic title “Socialism is the best prophylaxis!” is attributed to the doctor and health politician Maxim Zetkin (1883–1965). His thesis is developed in the text by examining the importance of the DDR’s socialist character for the construction of its health care system after the Second World War. This includes an examination of the difficulties and contradictions encountered along the way. The insights gained from this historical experience of building an effective, universally accessible health care system within the constraints set by economic resources can serve as a frame of reference for future struggles for greater health care.