Date: Sat, 2 May 98 09:18:41 CDT
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: HEALTH: New Head of WHO Warns Against Market Oriented Strategies
/** ips.english: 490.0 **/
** Topic: HEALTH: New Head of WHO Warns Against Market Oriented Strategies **
** Written 4:26 PM May 1, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
GENEVA, Apr 28 (IPS)—Former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland warned Asian governments against the risk of prescribing for the health sector the same neoliberal formulas that have been applied to the economy.
In a seminar held during the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB)
annual meeting of the board of governors, which will run through May 1
in Geneva, Brundtland said
governments should beware. There is a
danger that the very market oriented strategies that have been
successful for many sectors of the economy in Asia will be transferred
without much thought to the health sector.
The message to decision makers in Asia at this crucial stage is
this: Don’t sacrifice health in the quest for budget cuts. The
long term expenses will go beyond the short term gains, said
Brundtland, who has been elected as the World Health
Organisation’s (WHO) new director-general.
Brundtland’s designation is pending approval by the World Health Assembly, which meets here May 10-16.
In Tuesday’s seminar, organised by WHO and the ADB to assess the
state of the health sector in Asia and the Pacific rim region,
Brundtland said that in the future
WHO will have the relationship
between health, health policies and economic development as an
underpinning of its contribution.
In order for WHO to be the world’s
leading advocate for
health, we need to provide the evidence that health is essential. Not
only as a moral obligation, an ethical obligation, a human right. But
also because it is pure and sound economics, she said.
Improvements in health lead to increases in per capita GDP and higher rates of growth, and the effects of improved health are likely to be greatest for the most vulnerable—the poorest and those with little education, Brundtland added.
She cited a study of rubber plantation workers in Indonesia, which showed that around half the workers were anemic, resulting in 20 percent lower productivity. But the work output of those who received a simple iron supplement increased nearly to the levels of the non-anemic workers. Weighed against the costs of intervention, the productivity gains were enormously high, she stressed.
Brundtland’s speech stood in contrast to the free-market stance that predominated at the ADB assembly, as she warned that Asia’s substantial—and growing—reliance on private financing mechanisms, including private voluntary insurance, in the health sector brought risks of an enormous rise in costs.
Her argument was based on the experience of the industrialised countries grouped in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The experience of several OECD countries shows that costs can be
contained while still providing quality services to the entire
population, she maintained.
Attempts to reduce public
expenditures by transferring health financing to private sources may
Brundtland pointed out that the U.S. government, with its substantial emphasis on private financing, nonetheless spends about the same percentage of its GDP on health as do the governments of Norway and Britain—the difference being that the U.S. health sector as a whole consumes twice the percent of GDP.
Achieving universal coverage and controlling costs require a strong public presence in health finance, she argued.
Brundtland added that Asia and the WHO should combine forces to wage all-out battles against tuberculosis, the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and tobacco consumption.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, meanwhile, stressed the
strides her country has taken in health. But she told the seminar that
the greatest challenge that the Sri Lankan health sustem faces
today is perhaps the whole new sphere of need that has arisen as a
consequence of the 14-year-long civil war, which has devastated the
WHO Deputy Director-General Fernando Antezana underlined that
returns on investment in the social sector are enormous, although
not easily quantifiable. They include peace and security, sustainable
development, and improved health and quality of life for all, which in
turn will stimulate economic growth.