“The cooperative sector is the State’s best ally in health provision”

Interview with Dr Ricardo López, Founder and President of the FAESS (Argentinian Federation of Solidarity Health Entities), Secretary of COOPERAR and member of the IHCO Board.

Why did you set up the FAESS, and what are its current and imminent projects?
The FAESS is a collective creation of the organised cooperative movement in Argentina, with the purpose of satisfying the needs of the cooperative sector in the field of health. Its promoters were the presidents of the Cooperative Fund Mobilisation Institute and the Confederation of Cooperatives of the Argentine Republic, at a point in history, back in the year 2000, when Argentina was undergoing a severe social, political and economic crisis, with 50% of the population having no health provision. When it was created it was strongly influenced by the experiences of Unimed do Brasil and the Spanish cooperative health model, in particular the principles of Dr Espriu.

Ricardo LópezHow well established is the cooperative sector in Argentinian healthcare?
Compared with the public sector the level is low, and even slightly lower than the profit-making private sector. The most recent INAES survey for 2007-2008 revealed a total of nearly 500,000 members of cooperatives, and 1.5 million mutual society members, both types of organisation belonging to the solidarity economy. It should be borne in mind that Argentina today has a population of nearly 42 million. And the real difficulty is that many of these organisations are small and medium-sized, making it difficult to achieve an economic balance.

To what extent do cooperatives in Argentina collaborate with the public health system?
That varies depending on the province and town in question. Health cooperatives have organised numerous health promotion campaigns. In the field of cardiovascular risk factors, for example, the leading cause of death among men and women in Argentina, cooperatives stand out in that they are second only to the State in staging surveys and campaigns.

Do you believe that cooperative healthcare is a genuine alternative to the development of national health systems? Why?
Our current experience demonstrates that health cannot be provided for only by the State, while the market excludes the weakest economic sectors. As a result, the cooperative sector is the State’s best ally in health provision, with a concept tied to the promotion of health, rather than the business of illness.

As a member of the IHCO, what do you see as the challenges facing the international cooperative movement in the health sector?
Undoubtedly the growth of the cooperative and mutual sector in many countries. The cooperative health sector, despite its global presence, does not yet have a model which can be developed in many countries. Meanwhile, many years after the “Health For All” declaration in Alma Ata, back in the 1960s, we now face the greatest inequality in access to health ever seen. I believe that the great opportunity for the cooperative health model lies in this latter contradiction.

The International Cooperative Alliance launched its Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade with the aim of ensuring that by 2020 the cooperative enterprise model would be the fastest-growing, the preferred option and the leader of social, economic and environmental sustainability. What initiatives is the cooperative movement in Argentina taking in this regard?
Various. The main body, COOPERAR, groups together more than 65 federations and close on 3000 operatives. The cooperative and mutual sector now accounts for nearly 10% of Argentina’s GDP. A very strong employment cooperative sector has developed, and the relationship with civil and political sectors has been firmly established. Links have above all been strengthened with the Catholic Church in Argentina, as the country’s leading religion, following the meeting promoted by COOPERAR in October 2013 between Pope Francis and executives of the ICA, along with recent declarations by the Pope praising the role of cooperatives.

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