International Baby Food Action Network

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144th session of the Executive Board<br>24 January - 1 February 2019
Agenda Item: 
5.5.1 Primary health care towards universal health coverage

As one of WHO’s longest-standing public interest partners IBFAN strongly supports the principle of publicly funded UHC and welcomes WHO’s acknowledgement that primary health care is an essential component.

However, that so little attention is paid to the need for conflict of Interest safeguards is worrying. WHO’s keenness to involve the private sector, along with its fear of being seen as ‘risk averse’, now seems more evident than its fear being seen as cavalier, even negligent.

Of course WHO cannot police what happens at country level, however it does have an obligation to warn Member States of the risks of inappropriate commercial involvement in health care delivery. If it doesn’t the public will surely question its independence, integrity and trustworthiness.

There are countless examples of patient safety and health being harmed because of such involvement. To take just one. Does WHO really want to seen as endorsing baby food company phone apps that advise mothers how to feed their babies?

No one wants to hold back innovation that can genuinely advance health, but do profit-making corporations really have the monopoly on innovative ideas? One thing is sure, unless interventions are monitored by truly independent bodies, the risks to health and increased costs of services can be substantial. If corporations are involved in monitoring – as they might be in a Public Private Partnership - the benefits of the commercial interventions are likely to be promoted above the risks. Pretty soon they will be trusted to help with health care planning, given access to personal data and more.

Meanwhile publicly funded health care systems are under attack. This is a slippery slope that needs to be navigated very carefully and WHO has a key role to play in getting it right. Thank you.