How co-operatives can have a positive impact on people’s health

Each year 285,000 people across the world die through financial difficulty, but co-operatives can help shift this with a focus on long-term investment to prevent economic shocks, which...

Each year 285,000 people across the world die through financial difficulty, but co-operatives can help shift this with a focus on long-term investment to prevent economic shocks, which in turn will have a positive impact on people’s health.

According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with Harvard University, in times of crisis, cardio vascular problems, mental disorders and suicidal rates tend to increase. The study is an attempt to explore the inter-connectedness between different sectors such as finance and agriculture – and the implications this has on the population’s health.

“The relation between banking and health is striking,” said Rüdiger Krech, WHO Director of the Department of Ethics and Social Determinants of Health.

One of the keynote speakers at the International Summit of Co-operatives in October, Mr Krech will be introducing delegates to WHO’s approach to healthcare. “There is a lot for us to learn from different sectors and how principles of co-operatives could help not only health co-ops, but housing, banking and agricultural co-ops as well,” he says.

Prior to joining the WHO, Mr Krech was in charge of German International Cooperation’s (GiZ) projects on social protection. As part of his work, he looked at sustainable growth and social market economy, as well as financial risk protection and solidarity mechanisms.

Rüdiger Krech
Rüdiger Krech

At WHO, Mr Krech is working with member states and partners on developing free payment mechanisms so that all people, regardless of their ability to pay, receive the health services they need. Those services need to be affordable to everybody, accessible and of high quality, he explained. Appropriate health personnel area also required.

“One hundred million people every year fall into financial catastrophe because of health expenditure. That is a huge problem. It is a key priority both for the WHO and the GiZ,” he says.

In low-income countries, co-operatives can help expand social health protection. However, in order to do so, they need to abide by their core co-operative values and principles. Co-operatives are much closer to the needs of the people when they take their values and principles seriously, argues Mr Krech.

“Perhaps sometimes we underestimate the power of co-ops within our governance structure. That is what we want to bring forward by looking at the implications of co-ops on health through the banking field,” he explains.

With governments across the world making cuts in public spending, co-operatives could have a role to play in filling this gap.

In terms of healthcare services, co-operatives could be key to addressing people’s needs. However, Mr Krech thinks there are certain risks that also need to be taken into account. He explains that very often, co-operatives are unable to deliver services, and this creates a lot of frustration among their members.

This is partly because some healthcare providers target wealthy groups only. This determined vulnerable people with lower incomes to turn to health co-operatives. As a result, health co-operatives are more exposed to risks, this group of people being the most vulnerable to disease. Thus financial risk protection is an important aspect that co-operatives need to take into account.

“The state has the responsibility to provide legal mechanisms to ensure that rich pay for poor, young for old and healthy for unhealthy. If there is no legal framework than you are operating in a sort of vacuum,” says Mr Krech, adding that health protection was a human right and social protection was part of it.

In Canada and across various European states, healthcare co-operatives are a key player within the health sector, he adds. Other countries could learn from this example, but such initiatives must be adaptable to the realities of each individual state.

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