There has been a flurry of activity here in Maputo, as we prepared for the large annual meeting between the Ministry of Health and its development partners to review the performance of the health sector in 2008. I took my camera along to the big meeting on the 3rd April, so that you can get a sense of the level of attention this meeting draws. However, for now I just wanted to touch on one issue - how we protect health and social welfare in a time of economic crisis.
One of the issues raised in the meeting with the Ministry of Health was the need for collective efforts to protect investments in health. There is considerable evidence that poverty pushes people in to poverty, and a real danger that in times of economic downturn - levels of poverty will increase, and the numbers of people excluded from health care rise, because they either can't afford the cost of care, or can't afford the associated costs of getting to hospital and of lost employment.
I would like to direct everyone who is interested in this subject to a very powerful speech by Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation. It is a heart felt statement, with a clear message that "the market does not solve social problems".
"Collectively, we have failed to give the systems that govern international relations a moral dimension. The values and concerns of society rarely shape the way these international systems operate. If businesses, like the pharmaceutical industry, are driven by the need to make a profit, how can we expect them to invest in R&D for diseases of the poor, who have no purchasing power? In far too many cases, economic growth has been pursued, with single-minded purpose, as the be-all, end-all, cure-for-all. Economic growth, as many believed, would cure poverty and improve health. This did not happen."
Whilst the resources generated by economic growth and the employment created lifts millions out of poverty, if we want to address inequality, and ensure that the poorest do not fall further behind, then we need social policies which target the poor and vulnerable. In our meetings with the Ministry of Health in Mozambique, which is committed to trying to reduce inequality, this is an important area of discussion. We want to try to ensure that investment in health is protected in the economic crisis, and people who are sick can access essential services, irrespective of their ability to pay.