Health Care Systems must be protected from Economic Recession, says new WMA President

A plea for action to shield the world’s health care systems as much as possible from the aftershock of the global financial turmoil and the economic recession has come from Dr. Yoram Blachar, the new President of the World Medical Association.

In his inaugural speech at the WMA’s annual General Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Blachar said the WMA and national medical associations must act to moderate the destructive impact of the financial crisis.

He said that based on past experience, along with the low level of priority usually given to health care, it seemed impossible to escape damage to health systems, and in those countries where health insurance was an integral part of employment conditions, it would be difficult to escape disastrous consequences, especially in the light of the waves of layoffs.

Dr. Blachar told delegates from more than 40 national medical associations: ‘At last those nations without public health insurance will understand that one can not let bankrupting market forces and the free economy control health services, and social-democratic countries will realize that we must halt the trend of privatization when that threatens the equality and health of their residents.’

He said it had become apparent that no country in the world was capable of funding the elaborate components of medical care from its public budget. As a result different levels of medical care were given depending on a person's economic standing.

‘More and more, the funding of medical services is being transferred from the public account to the private pocket. Whoever has the ability to privately purchase what the state does not provide will receive excellent, up to date care and the rest will receive a lower level of care in accordance with their ability to pay or more specifically, not to pay.

‘Here we find a conflict of the most basic ethical principles with economic factors.’

The direct result of these trends was an increase in disparities in the access, timeliness and level of medical care.

Dr. Blachar said that health disparities had always existed both among and within countries, but the gaps were widening and this phenomenon is intolerable. The lower one's socio-economic position or educational level, the more extreme the phenomenon.

He said the WMA and individual physicians had a role to play in combating this problem.

Dr. Blachar, a paediatrician who is also President of the Israel Medical Association, said that doctors as social leaders had a responsibility to address a wider scope of issues affecting health, such as armed conflict. The WMA had a unique opportunity, with both ability and positioning to try to bring conflicting parties to the discussion table by encouragement and dialogue within its organization.

In his own region of the Middle East, he said he would use his Presidency of the WMA to make every effort to turn health and medicine on an organizational level to a bridging force and to advance the peace process the region so desperately needed.

‘I hope to be instrumental in bringing national medical associations who are not yet members or active in the WMA to our meetings and begin a dialogue under the auspices of the WMA so that we may begin a process of mediation based on our common profession which spans different nationalities, viewpoints and is common to all of us as doctors whose job it is to bring help and healing.’