“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.