Saturday, November 15, 2008

WHO implores govts to improve health systems

COMMENT - Perhaps the WHO should have a talk with the IMF and World Bank, which have been shutting down medical services all over the globe in the name of smaller government.

WHO implores govts to improve health systems
Written by Masuzyo Chakwe
Saturday, November 15, 2008 4:41:09 AM

WORLD Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Margaret Chan has called on all governments and political leaders to maintain their efforts to strengthen and improve the performance of their health systems in view of the present financial and economic crisis.

Commenting on the impact of the global financial and economic crisis on health, Dr Chan said the current financial crisis was rapidly becoming an economic crisis and threatens to become a social crisis in many countries.

She said the crisis comes at a time when commitment to global health had never been higher.

“It comes in the midst of the most ambitious drive in history to reduce poverty and distribute the benefits of our modern society, including those related to health, more evenly and fairly in this world - the Millennium Development Goals,” she said.

Dr Chan said a previous effort to use health as the route to socioeconomic development, launched in 1978, was followed almost immediately by a fuel crisis, soaring oil prices, and the debt crisis of the early 1980s.

“In the international response to these crises, mistakes were made when budgets were shifted away from investments in the social sectors, most notably health and education. Many countries are still suffering the legacy of these errors,” she said.

Dr Chan said it was not yet clear what the current financial crisis would mean for low-income and emerging economies, but many predictions are highly pessimistic.

She said in the face of a global recession, fiscal pressures in affluent countries may prompt cuts to official development assistance.

“Worse still, is the prospect of cuts in social spending - health, education and social protection - that many countries, especially low-income countries, may be forced to undertake. Both of these responses have occurred in the past. And both could be as equally devastating for health, development, security and prosperity as they were in the past,” she said.

Dr Chan said it was essential therefore to learn from past mistakes and counter this period of economic downturn by increasing investment in health and the social sector.

She said this was important to protect the poor as rising food and fuel prices, along with employment insecurity, were among the factors leading to increasing inequities during an economic downturn.

“In this context, impoverishing health care expenditures - that in “good” times push more than 100 million persons annually into poverty - are likely to increase dramatically. Inevitably, it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most; the poor, the marginalised, children, women, disabled, the elderly, and those with chronic illness. Stronger social safety nets are urgently needed to protect the most vulnerable in rich and poor countries,” she said.

Dr Chan said this was also important to promote economic recovery and to promote social stability as equitable distribution of health care is a critical contributor to social cohesion.

she said it was important to also generate efficiency and build security.

“A world that is greatly out of balance in health is neither stable nor secure. Robust health systems are essential to maintain surveillance and response capacity in the face of pandemic threats. The lack of investment in sub-Saharan African health systems in the 1980s meant they were tragically unprepared for the HIV and AIDS pandemic in the decade that followed,” said Dr Chan.

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