In her introduction to the meeting, Ms. V Lakshmi, PSI AP Regional Secretary, stressed that an unhealthy development in the region is privatisation of services, including healthcare services, and that it is important to understand and actively counter this trend.
This meeting aimed at developing a network of health workers’ unions, to strengthen and to deepen our collective fight for quality public health services for all. The day-and-a-half long meeting brought together unions from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Australia. In her opening address, Ms. Annie Geron, Co-chair of PSI’s AP Regional Executive Committee reflected that trade unions organise during and for tougher times and stressed the importance of solidarity in our struggles. Together, we shall overcome, she concluded.
Two invited speakers offered their analysis of healthcare systems and the type of healthcare funding models that exist in the region. Dr. Amit Sengupta, from Peoples Health Movement, India, showed that it is not enough to pour money into a healthcare system, but it is the way the system is organised that is fundamental to the healthcare outcomes it will create. It is easy to say that low-income countries spend less public money on health, while high-income countries spend most. However, this does not explain why countries like Thailand fare so well. Ms Dela Paz, MD Associate Professor of the University of the Philippines, Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator of the People’s Health Movement, added that a focus on primary health care and a dominant role of the public sector in a mixed system (i.e. where both public and private provision exist) are fundamental factors of a system’s health outcomes.
During discussions on privatisation and identifying national and global drivers of the expansion of the private sector, the speakers stressed how important it is to contest the notion that the private sector is more efficient, as the definition of ‘efficiency’ is fundamentally different in the public and private sectors. In the public sector, efficiency means that a maximum number of people are kept healthy with limited resources, while the private logic is that with a certain amount of money, treatment costs should kept down so that profits will increase. The speakers suggested that the current model of Universal Health Coverage currently pushed by international institutions is a neoliberal response to the health crisis, where public money is used to push patients into the private sector, and is therefore just one more route to promote privatisation. PSI affiliated unions shared their experience of struggles for quality public health services. Ms. Judith Kiejda, from the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), recounted the spoke of her union’s struggle against the Australian government’s repeated attacks on the public health system. At the State level, the government has closed channels of democratic dialogue and conflict resolution and heightened the attack on workers.
The second day of the meeting was dedicated to defining ways of organising and working together in the region. The participants concluded the forum and decided to recommend the creation of a regional sectoral network in the health sector that would work at developing solidarity among existing struggles in the region, and developing common campaigns on shared priorities.