Q&As for 2022: Dr Carlos Zarco, president, International Health Co-op Organisation

'Health requires solidarity, complementarity and collaboration, and co-operatives are especially efficient at doing this'

How has the last year been for your sector?

2021 has been a very complicated year, with great challenges to face. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all sectors of the economy, but the health sector has undoubtedly been one of those that suffered the most.

In addition, a large number of professional members of health co-operatives have been affected by the disease, and unfortunately many of them have died. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the health workers who have left us because they were dealing with Covid-19 on the front line.

The health emergency has forced many co-operatives in the sector to reinvent themselves. We have had to expand capacity, reallocate resources and be more efficient than ever in order to meet the sudden increase in healthcare demand, while maintaining the level of quality in the care of our patients. Once again, the co-operative model has demonstrated its flexibility by rapidly adapting to new circumstances to meet the needs of society.

This was recently stated by the United Nations Secretary-General, who has recognised the important role that health co-operatives have played in relieving pressure on public health systems in several countries.

What are your hopes for the future?

Looking ahead, I think we’re facing an opportunity for the co-operative movement and especially for the health sector. The necessary recovery after the coronavirus crisis must take into account major global challenges such as climate change and sustainable development.

In the field of health, the crisis has exacerbated problems that have been around for a long time. The challenges that lie ahead won’t wait: demographics are leading to an increase in healthcare costs, changes are occurring in disease patterns and causes of death, and technological development is driving progress towards a more personalised, more precise medicine. These challenges require new approaches based on prevention and collaboration between social and health services.

We must take advantage of the recovery to promote more integrated health systems, which combine all resources with the participation of all the actors dedicated to caring for people.

Health is a public good for which it is increasingly difficult to provide individual responses from the state, the private sector or civil society. Health is a social construction that requires solidarity, complementarity and collaboration, and co-operatives have long shown that they are especially efficient at doing this.

They are undoubtedly a great ally of governments for dealing with health challenges. At the last G20 summit, the Health and Life Sciences Task Force recommended that governments take advantage of the potential of the co-operative model as an organisational tool in the health sector, because it protects professionals, strengthens health systems and contributes to Universal Health Coverage, especially in medium- and low-income countries.

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