Mr. Ögmundur Jónasson
Icelandic Minister of Health
Sixty-second World Health Assembly, May 2009
General Discussion in Plenary Meeting
“Impact of the economic and financial crisis on global health”
Mr. President, Director General, Distinguished Delegates.
At present we are faced with difficult circumstances in the global economy that affects us all.
Iceland was among the first countries to be hit by the crisis and it was hit very badly
The unemployment rate has been climbing, many individuals have lost their savings, and pension funds have been badly hit. The full cost of the crisis is yet to be determined and what is of utmost concern is what will eventually be the social costs. Due to the collapse of the private banks, the state, i.e. the general public is to be burdened with heavy debts into the future.
The crisis has already had an impact on the health care system in our country as we have had to cut down our health expenses by more than 6,5% this year and are expecting even a higher cut for next year.
But in a time of austerity, how do we decide what to cut and what not to cut.
In Iceland we have started by setting priorities. We recently concluded national elections and the voters gave the government which had come to power earlier in the year a clear mandate to continue, and to prioritize new values of equality, social justice, solidarity, sustainable development, gender equality, moral reform and democracy in Iceland.
These values guide us in the measures that we are taking to protect health spending and the provision of health care. Every effort is being made to protect low-income earners and those who are most vulnerable.
In my opinion it is extremely important to emphasize more collaboration and partnership and to foster an open and creative environment with active co-operation and participation of all sectors of our communities, including the labour unions, to reach a consensus on where we are leading our health care system. Together we need to find the answers on which elements of social welfare are indispensable and what must survive even the worst crisis.
We have held a series of meetings in Iceland open to all health care workers and others interested in health care matters where we have gathered innovative ideas on where we should go from here regarding our health care system.
The outcome of these meetings have emphasized the need to make a better use of primary health care and it has been recognized that we should draw lessons from the crisis by tracking results and to deliver better value for money.
We have been hearing ever stronger demands from our society that we needed to return to the collective world and that market individualism is not going to solve the tasks facing us. It is the ideology of neoliberalism which in fact is the cause of our problems – not their solutions and more and more people are recognizing this.
In Iceland we have made an effort in making drugs available at affordable prices so they are within the financial reach of the health care service and individuals in need. This has been done by promoting the use of more affordable drugs, only subsidizing the cheapest available drugs given they are up to recognized quality standards. This of course is not in accordance with free market principles and as was to be expected we have already felt the cold breath of the pharmaceutical industry down our back.
In order to survive the financial crises we need, however, to continue to promote rationality and we will do so and use most cost-effective resources when possible on all levels of health services.
The ongoing dramatic changes in the global macro-economic climate are likely to have far reaching consequences.
In spite of the extremely difficult situation that we are now faced with many developing countries were already experiencing seriously overstretched and under funded health care systems before the economic crisis. For these countries it might even have more devastating effects if the developed world will not honour their commitments. Therefore I am pleased to see that the agenda item on the Monitoring of the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals is still on our agenda for this Health Assembly, especially maternal health.
But we are not only faced by economic threats we have other imminent threats as the recent influenza outbreak has reminded us of.
The response of the World Health Organization in the current outbreaks clearly demonstrated the importance of international coordination of appropriated actions. The revised International Health Regulations have improved health security by strengthening effective mechanisms for outbreak alert and response both within WHO member states and world-wide. The regulations have made the Organization able to respond firmly to possible emergencies and outbreaks of pandemic diseases.
Cooperation and sharing of information and experience between member states is becoming more and more important because of the diversity of the threats and their complex nature. With effective cooperation we are better prepared to control the spread of diseases and to react to other challenges we are faced with.
(Talað orð gildir)