Annual Q&A: Carlos Zarco, president, International Health Cooperative Organisation

‘Co-operatives can be a powerful instrument for strengthening public health systems, providing efficiency, saving public resources and contributing to the redistribution of wealth’

How has the last year been for health co-operatives internationally?

The Covid-19 pandemic is receding, but it is still affecting many people and impacting the health sector. Nevertheless, this has been a very positive year for health co-operatives, in which they have established themselves as a major instrument for improving universal health coverage.

More and more countries are incorporating co-operative enterprises as a key element of their health systems. The non-profit structure of these enterprises, which keeps the ownership in the hands of the patients, the professionals or both groups, is very efficient in facing the current health challenges.

Reinvestment of surpluses, a fundamental characteristic of the model, allows for continuous improvement in the capacity of professionals and in providing hospitals and health centres with the best technology, thus improving the quality of care patients receive.

For the International Health Cooperative Organisation, 2022 has been a year of growth. Three new entities from Greece, Uruguay and Panama have joined us, and we have reached the largest number of members since the organisation was founded.

It has also been a year of intense activity. We have carried out an international investigation that has allowed us to verify the breadth of the sectors where health co-operatives have active participation. These range from primary care and hospital management to social health services, prevention and health literacy, without forgetting the pharmaceutical sector, which has a long tradition in equitable access to medicines, and health insurance, which protects people against the financial risks associated with diseases.

The results of this study have allowed us to design health policy recommendations that exploit the potential of co-operative enterprises. We have presented them at various decision-making forums, such as the B20 summit, the African Ministerial Cooperative Conference and the 6th Summit of the Cooperatives of the Americas.

What are your hopes for the future?

Many challenges lie ahead of us, and in 2023 we will have to redouble our efforts to face them. The pandemic has slowed progress towards the 2030 Agenda in many countries. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, co-operatives are natural vehicles for collaboration with a comprehensive and people-centred approach.

At the IHCO, we will work with the third sustainable development goal related to health and wellbeing by highlighting the capacity of co-operatives to integrate into health systems, their flexibility to adapt to new socioeconomic scenarios and their agility in responding to new needs.

We must also address significant challenges such as digitalisation, which is essential to continue improving healthcare quality while preserving companies’ viability and sustainability. The shortage of health professionals, generational change and skills building are also a priority.

Another line of work will be strategic alliances with governments. Through public-private partnership formulas, co-operatives can be a powerful instrument for strengthening public health systems, providing efficiency, saving public resources and contributing to the redistribution of wealth.