(Press Release - May 18, 2009) PHM at WHA 2009: “Declare Global economic downturn a health emergency!”

1 Jan 2009

“Economic Recession is a threat to the world’s health”

The People’s Health Movement urges the World Health Organization and member governments to “declare the economic recession currently gripping the globe as a health emergency”.

Health activists gathered here in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (18-22 May) are expected to lobby the UN health body and governments to declare global downturn a health emergency.

People’s Health Movement (PHM) is a global coalition of grass root health workers, health professionals, human rights, peace and social activists.  

“Recession is hitting the poor people hard and their health and survival” said a PHM spokesperson.

“While it is too early to make a rigorous assessment, recession’s potential impact on health is much greater than that of ‘Swine flu’, through impacts on poverty and social spending”.

“The current paradigm of ‘development’ has aggravated poverty and ill-health for the poor, especially in the global south”
, said Prof. David Sanders, a public health expert from South Africa . “The current financial crisis will worsen this”, he said.

“Donors need to place health needs of poor people at the centre of their response strategies” said Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury from Bangladesh . Dr. Chowdhury, a leading advocate for affordable health care for poor people from Bangladesh , urged donors to do a ’reality check’ and shred what he alleged was their ‘imperial attitude’.

PHM warns that the financial crisis is likely to result in greater dependence of southern countries on donor assistance.

Previous precedents indicate that the effects of the global crisis will be quickly felt by the poor, across the globe. Focussing on a few priority diseases will further amplify the health challenges for the poor people.

Consider the facts:

50 million workers may lose jobs if the economic crisis worsens, warns the International Labour Organization.

  • The UN and all its agencies and funds spend about $20 billion each year or about $3 for each person in the world. In contrast, Global military expenditure in 2007 was US $ 1339 billion or about US $202 for each person in the world.
  • Over 1 billion people across the globe go hungry every day. One in five people in developing countries is chronically undernourished
  • Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes - one child every five seconds.
  • The crisis undermines human rights. UN Human Rights Council expressed “grave concern” that the crises threatens to undermine the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals.

“The loss of livelihoods, impending cutbacks in welfare spending and intensified food crisis for the world’s poor is going to result in a significant increase in avoidable deaths around the world” said Dr. Amit Sengupta, a leading health analyst from India. In India , 80 percent of expenditure on healthcare is through out-of-pocket payments.

Loss of jobs or income could leave a vast majority of these unable to pay for their treatment.

“It is time to shift gears. The current situation demonstrates the need for a new world health order and a new approach to development”
, said David Woodward, a development economist from the United Kingdom . It is essential that poor people are put at the centre of this new order, he said. Typically those in poor, developing countries are likely to suffer the most.

The PHM demands immediate measures by the international community and individual governments:

  1. To ensure adequate resources made available to revitalise public health systems. Pay urgent attention to the needs of the poor rather than the revival of failed big commercial banks.
  2. To allocate funds for the restoration of jobs and livelihood opportunities in low income communities.
  3. To strengthen social welfare programs in developing countries and for homeless and unemployed people in developed countries, and not to use the economic crisis downturn as an excuse to cut funds of welfare related programmes.

Bridget Lloyd, Global co-ordinator: People’s Health Movement.

For media enquiries: E-mail: globalsecretariat[at]phmovement.org / media[at]phmovement.org