Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that the US approach to public health was failing.

Around 40% of deaths in the country are due to five leading causes of preventable illness. A third of Americans avoid regular doctor visits because it’s too expensive. Nearly 25% of Americans struggle to afford prescription medication, with the number rising to half for people in poor health. Two-thirds of bankruptcy cases in the US, meanwhile, stem from medical bills.

These outcomes are all due to policy choices — specifically a private health care system, sky-high drug prices, and minimal public health funding. The COVID-19 pandemic only underscored the extent to which ordinary citizens are often on their own when facing health problems.

The US isn’t alone. Globally, around half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services and 100 million people get pushed into extreme poverty annually due to medical costs, according to the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines showed how rich countries immediately hoarded doses that could supply their populations several times over, while poorer countries had little to no access to them.

These are all examples of existing and long-held inequalities, highlighting the systemic barriers to true health justice and financing for the world’s most marginalized populations.

Governments and world leaders need to step up and invest in better, more equitable health financing. But in the absence of adequate state support, mutual aid and community support can fill in the gaps of care and weave together missing threads in the social safety net, according to Mia Birdsong, the author of How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community.

In an interview with Global Citizen, Birdsong explained how her community showed up for her as she battled cancer and how their efforts are already inspiring similar mutual aid elsewhere.

Excerpted from a larger interview, the conversation has been lightly edited for clarity, and shows the remarkable potential of mutual aid.

Read the full article about mutual aid by Joe McCarthy at Global Citizen.