Health co-operatives are the children of problems and the mothers of solutions

Fédération des coopératives de services à domicile et de santé du Québec (FCSDSQ), the Health Care Co-operative Federation of Canada and the IHCO organised the International Forum on Health Co-operatives staged in the city of Lévis, Canada, on 12 October.

It was with this succinct phrase that Ricardo López, a member of the board of the International Health Co-operatives Organisation, IHCO, and the President of the FAESS (Argentine Federation of Solidarity Health Entities) brought to a close his address at the International Forum on Health Co-operatives staged in the city of Lévis, Canada, on 12 October.

Unimed President Dr. Eudes Aquino addressed to attendees at International Forum on Health Promotion

Unimed President Dr. Eudes Aquino addressed to attendees at International Forum on Health Promotion

The meeting, organised by the Fédération des coopératives de services à domicile et de santé du Québec (FCSDSQ), the Health Care Co-operative Federation of Canada and the IHCO, was held with the aim of illustrating how the health co-operative concept can provide a solution in increasing public access to healthcare, while also debating and exchanging opinions regarding the different focuses and models of health co-operative which exist worldwide.

The debate, which featured various IHCO representatives alongside Ricardo López, including José Carlos Guisado, President of the IHCO and CEO of the Espriu Foundation; Eudes Aquino, President of Unimed of Brazil; Jagdev Singh Deo, President of the Doctors’ Co-operative of Malaysia; Toshinori Ozeki, Boar member of HeW Coop in Japan and William Janssens, President of the Organisation of Belgian Co-operative Pharmacies, highlighted the broad spectrum of organisational models adopted by health co-operatives, from organisations owned by users or professionals to those incorporating both groups.

Dr Guisado detailed the operational model implemented by the institutions of the Espriu Foundation, highlighting such aspects as co-management by professionals and users of the system, and partnership with public authorities through the co-operative management of public health infrastructure facilities.

With the support of statistics, Dr Aquino demonstrated how Unimed has developed a co-operative health model in Brazil which receives the most positive of evaluations from both professionals and the members of the public who receive its services. This model has evolved over little more than 50 years to spread throughout the country.

Another of the examples presented in Levis was recounted by Dr Deo of Malaysia. In his country medical co-operatives have set up a pharmaceutical branch allowing doctors to prescribe low-cost drugs to their patients.

The pharmaceutical sector was also represented by Belgium’s Mr Janssens, who illustrated the significance of co-operative pharmacies in the country, serving more than 2.2 million people and accounting for 20% of all pharmaceutical distribution in Belgium.

At the other end of the scale would be the Japanese experience explained by Mr Oseki, highlighting the commitment and responsibility of citizens joining together in co-operatives with the aim of creating health care facilities, promoting health and disease prevention, fostering healthy lifestyles and, in response to natural disasters such as the tsunami which struck Japan in March 2011, implementing mechanisms to assist the population affected.

The local perspective was provided by Vanessa Hammond, President of the Health Care Co-operatives Federation of Canada, and Jean-Pierre Girard, an expert in the health co-operative movement in the province of Québec, who highlighted the challenges in terms of health care facing a country of the size and geography of Canada, with access a particular challenge in certain areas. The range of indigenous language and beliefs also represent further obstacles. Nonetheless, the country’s health care co-operatives serve more than 1 million Canadians.

Rüdiger Krech, representative of the World Health Organization, invited the leaders of the health co-operative movement to look to the future, reminding them that a number of macroeconomists predict that «integral health will be the next new mega-market of the 21st Century» on a scale similar to those which in the 20th century brought about advances in electrical engineering, petrochemicals and information technology. « Just looking at the emerging economies, such as India, Indonesia or China, literally millions of people will seek financial health coverage in the coming decade. Could the cooperatives model – values-based, member-controlled, but an enterprise – be rolled out in those countries? It will be an honor for us to be at your side when you are exploring this potential. »

The forum took place within the context of the numerous debates staged over the course of the week in the neighbouring city of Quebec during the International Summit of Co-operatives, one of the main events organised by the co-operative movement to mark International Year of Co-operatives.

 

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