On 13 November, IHCO participated in the General Assembly of the Alliance for Health Promotion held in the Graduate Institute of Geneva. IHCO President Carlos Zarco represented health cooperatives at the meeting. He shared with the Alliance’s members what are the advantages of cooperatives in the health sector and why these enterprises contribute to improving the well-being of the population.
The Alliance for Health Promotion is made up of a network of NGOs and international civil society organisations from different sectors that share their commitment to improving people’s health. The Alliance is officially linked to the WHO (World Health Organization) and has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).
IHCO held its annual General Assembly in Buenos Aires (Argentina) on 20 October. Members approved the report of the President and discussed the action plan for 2019. The organisation aims to increase the visibility of health cooperatives and raise the public awareness of their contribution to the health systems and the Sustainable Development Goals. It also plans to foster business inter-cooperation, to facilitate mutually beneficial relations between the member organisations and to support them in their advocacy and lobbying actions at the national and local levels.
The map of inequality: with over 20 million Italians in financial difficulty going without treatment or getting into debt to receive it, health becomes a commodity only available for those who can pay. Cooperatives are a third way to support the Italian national health service.
On 7 July 2018, IHCO’s member organisations are going to join cooperators around the world to celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives. With the common message «Sustainable societies through cooperation», the cooperative movement puts forward the values behind the cooperative business model. Cooperatives have always set out to enable people to have access to goods and services sustainably, even before the concept of sustainability had emerged as a global concern.
As ICA President Ariel Guarco highlighted, «We represent 1.2 billion cooperative members, there is no other economic, social and political movement in the world that in less than 200 years has probably grown as much as we have. But growth is not the most important thing. We consume, produce and use the resources that the planet gives us but in solidarity with the environment and with our communities. That is why we are a key partner for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.»
The need for healthcare is continuously growing. The social and demographic changes, the increased life expectancy, and the growth of chronic diseases put pressure on health systems. Health cooperatives have an influential role to play in the sustainability of health systems. They have the ability to respond to new needs that emerge in society and to attract resources that otherwise would not be dedicated to health and well-being. Health cooperatives’ flexibility at ownership and governance structure contributes to innovation in design and experimentation with new organisational structures, while making them particularly effective in withstanding and adapting to economic crises.
Moreover, health cooperative’s members, both users and professionals, develop a joint commitment and build a relationship of trust between them that helps to improve the quality of the healthcare service. As IHCO President Carlos Zarco stated, «cooperatives are a business model that competes in the marketplace like any other, but they do not need to pay out returns to shareholders and can reinvest all their profits in improving services and guaranteeing their sustainability.»
IHCO participated at the meeting hosted by International Labour Organisation, ILO, in Geneva on 23 May to discuss the potential of health cooperatives to adapt to different geographic, political and socio-economic contexts. With the participation of the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Novartis Social Business, and the consultancy LPS, the objective of the meeting was to take advantage of the versatility of health cooperatives for developing healthcare projects in medium- and low-income countries.
Two projects have been identified in Africa; an insurance cooperative in Kenya, where a health promotion project could be developed, and a cocoa producers’ cooperative in Cameroon interested in offering healthcare to its members. Both projects follow the model of well-established cooperatives working in different sectors that are willing to extend their activity to the health domain and meeting the health needs of their communities.
The Office des Pharmacies Coopératives de Belgique, OPHACO, is the recognised professional association federating 616 cooperative pharmacies in Belgium, distributed into 15 cooperatives. OPHACO’s cooperative pharmacies represent the 20% of the non-hospital pharmaceutical market in Belgium and the 12% of country’s pharmacies.
As a representative professional organisation, OPHACO is present, at the institutional level, on the boards and technical committees dealing with public health, economy, employment and social affairs.
OPHACO’s mission consists in providing pharmaceutical care at the highest quality, efficiency and safety, as well allow patients’ access to medicines at the fairest cost.
The first cooperative pharmacies appeared in Belgium in the 1880s, called «Pharmacies Populaires de Bruxelles». Along the XX century, different models were developed, being the differences, basically, if their origins were the unions, the mutual aid societies or another kind of organisations. In 1946 OPHACO was set up with the aim of bringing together the various organisations of cooperative pharmacies in Belgium, a process that lasted until 1962.
Nowadays, OPHACO’s cooperative pharmacies generate an annual turnover of about 600 million euros and meet the needs for medicines, medical devices, specialised nutrition and other health products of 2.2 million people. Regarding employment, they directly or indirectly provide a job to 3,500 people, including 1,000 pharmacists.