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Financial Crisis: WHO warns against cutting health, social sector’s spending

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, Wednesday warned against cutting spending on health and the social sector because of the current global financial crisis.

In a statement issued here, Dr. Chan said it was essential to learn from past mistakes and ”counter this period of economic downturn by increasing investment in health and the social sector”.

”I am calling on all governments and political leaders to maintain their efforts to strengthen and improve the performance of their health systems, to protect the health of the people of the world, and in particular of those most fragile, in face of the present financial and economic crisis,” Dr. Chan said.

She gave a number of reasons to justify the call for increased spending on health and the social sector, including the need to protect the poor; promote economic recovery; promote social respons; generate efficiency and build security.

”Rising food and fuel prices along with employment insecurity are 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 marginalized, 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,” the WHO boss said.

On promoting economic recovery, she said investment in the social sectors is investment in human capital, adding: ”Healthy human capital is the foundation of economic productivity and can accelerate recovery towards economic stability.”

Dr. Chan also expatiated on her claim that raising health and social sector spending promote social stability, noting: ”Equitable distribution of health care is a critical contributor to social cohesion. Social cohesion is the best protection against social unrest, nationally and internationally. Healthy, productive, and stable populations are always an asset, but most especially in a time of crisis.”

She also noted that 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/AIDS pandemic in the decade that followed,” Dr. Chan said.

Observing that the financial crisis comes at a time when commitment to global health had never been higher, especially within the context of Milliennium Development Goals (MDGs), the WHO Director-General recalled that 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.

”We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We cannot afford, in this time of crisis, to squander our investments, to abandon our drive for greater balance in this world, which I firmly believe is a marker of civilized society,” she added.

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