Fran Baum on the final day of the WHO global health meeting

Fran BaumFran Baum is blogging from the 8th World Health Organization Global Health meeting. Read her other blogs here.

The morning session of the final day of the WHO 8th global health meeting (8GCHP) had many contributions looking to the future. Heidi Hautala, minister for internal development, Finland, spoke of the importance of woman in development, noting that child survival increases by 20% when the mother controls the household budget. She stressed that the Millenium Development Goals post 2015 must address health inequities. Eduardo Espinoza, minister of health, El Salvado, gave an impassioned plea for a rejection of what he described as “an irrational addiction to an outdated model of economic growth,” which ignores people’s and the environment’s needs. He stressed that El Salvador’s health reform has been based on social participation and broad intersectoral effort to deepen understanding of and action on social determinants of health. He said they assessed the health impact of industry including mining and agriculture and then regulated to protect health. Roopa Dhatt (President of International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) representing the voice of youth gave young people’s vision for the future of health—stressing the need for a systems view considering sustainability, health, and wellbeing. Hoda Rashad, Egypt, emphasised that health equity must become the benchmark of a country’s success.

The final session was chaired by Tessa Richards, BMJ, and we heard plans for the future from each WHO region. A representative from Africa stressed the massive problem of the brain drain in human resources and the Pan American Health Organization stressed the importance of working with civil society and keeping equity on the agenda. Some of the key actions suggested were to aim for all countries to have a GINI score of 0.35 or less and trending downwards, for countries to spend less than 1.5% of GDP on the military, and for rich countries to spend at least 0.7% of their GDP on aid. The world would be much healthier place if those three measures were instituted.

I leave Helsinki reflecting on what a well organised conference this was. The plenary sessions were all engaging and encouraged debate and discussion. The Twitter wall ran throughout the sessions and allowed a great interactivity between the speakers and the audience in the hall and watching from the live stream. It was my first conference as an active tweeter (@baumfran) and I now really appreciate the power of the tweet!

Above all else 8GCHP has pushed us to confront the extent to which we have created an economic system that does not support the health of most people or that of the environment, and a policy system that reinforces, rather than breaks down, silos. The Conference statement recognises this well, yet oddly has a set of very weak recommendations. In response to this I have been working with a group from the People’s Health Movement to develop a stronger Call to Action. We recommend 17 points of action including calls to regulate the global economy in the interests of health, for WHO to institute measures to deal with internal conflicts of interest, and for governments to close tax havens, introduce progressive taxation, and ensure corporations pay their fair share of tax. We also call for Health in All Policies to be led by heads of government in order to eliminate the policy incoherence that undermines population health and exacerbates health inequities. Now we all go home invigorated to continue the struggle for health.

Fran Baum is a professor of public health. She is the director of the Southgate Institute of Health Society and Equity, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, and is a member of the Global Steering Committee, People’s Health Movement. She is an Australian Research Council Federation fellow.