Transcript of WHO podcast - 9 July 2008
European health ministers make commitments to improve health systems
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 38.
In this episode, ministers of health from the 53 countries of the WHO European Region have signed a new charter on health systems, committing themselves to improving the health and wealth of people in Europe.
Veronica Riemer: Last week, in the Estonian capital Tallinn, located approximately 80 kilometres across the sea from Finland's capital Helsinki, ministers of health from the 53 countries of the WHO European Region signed a new Charter on health systems.
Health systems mean different things to different people. While most people think initially of hospital care, a health system also encompasses health clinics and even home care for newborns, the elderly and persons with disabilities. And more.
It is the sum of facilities, services, commodities and health workers -- including pharmacists, policy-makers and community workers -- that societies and communities need ready access to in order to keep healthy, prevent illness and obtain treatment and care when sick.
Health systems also play a role in influencing other areas that affect health, but where health is not the main focus, such as education, agriculture and the environment. For example, promoting health goals: such as making roads safer, implementing smoking bans in restaurants, providing exercise equipment in public parks and balanced meals to school children, to name a few. Pull all this together and this is what is meant by health systems. All this organized effort should be seen as a tool of health itself. Using that tool wisely is becoming a special concern for many nations and, therefore, for the World Health Organization.
The Tallinn Charter will lead to a better understanding of the impact of health systems on people's health and therefore on the economic growth in the WHO European Region.
Good health is linked strongly to economic and societal development. For example, the wealthier individuals and countries are, and the better our working and living conditions are, the more likely citizens are to enjoy good health. What is less widely acknowledged is that our health also contributes to economic development and wealth at both the individual and national levels. If we are healthy, we are more likely to be in work and be productive, and less likely to retire early. So by investing in effective health systems, people’s health should improve, and this should also lead to economic development and greater societal welfare.
All countries have pockets of people who miss out on quality health care. The Tallinn Charter stresses that strong health systems must be put in place to improve everyone's access to health information and care and to ensure that it is affordable.
The charter declares: “…Today, it is unacceptable that people become poor as a result of ill-health… We, the Member States, commit ourselves to ensuring due attention is paid to the needs of the poor and other vulnerable groups…”
WHO estimates that, each year health expenses cause 150 million people to suffer financial ruin and push 100 million below the poverty line. Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe, stressed that a good health system should not be a luxury that only rich countries can afford, but a fundamental part of the social and physical infrastructure that supports a country’s prosperity and social well-being.
Dr Marc Danzon: We know today that an integrated, systematic framework is necessary for meaningful and sustainable health. And, as the sub-title of our conference says, it is not just a question of health, but wealth plays a role as well. The health of individuals and countries can benefit too from a high level of integrated health system.
Veronica Riemer: Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, spoke about the Tallinn Health Systems Charter as a model for countries worldwide.
Dr Margaret Chan: Health leaders in all countries want to know how to make health systems perform better. They want to know what should be done, and they want to measure the results. And, this is one way to earn a better share of the national budget. Health leaders in all countries are looking for greater efficiency and seeking the right incentives. They are looking at options for fair financing. They want to know how financing instruments can be used as an incentive to improve provider performance. And they want to procure medicines rationally and ensure rational prescribing and use. European countries have experience and they have experience with a range of schemes of financing care.
Veronica Riemer: Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar, Deputy Regional Director, United Nations Children's Fund, spoke about the special needs of children and adolescents.
Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar: The Tallinn Charter and other recommendations emerging from this conference will help Member States improve health of their citizens and strengthen their health systems to deliver quality health services, in particular to the most vulnerable members of society, including children. Health systems and budgets need to take special account of needs of children and adolescents among vulnerable groups. They suffer the most if health systems do not deliver high-quality services. For example, recent household surveys that UNICEF has supported in 12 countries in the region show that children living in poor households are twice as likely to die as children living in richer households.
Veronica Riemer: If you would like more information about the Tallinn Health Systems Charter, the full text is published on the web site of the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.