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Article: "Govts in poor countries need to step up to the plate" - International President talks at the Global Healthcare Summit 2012


International President Unni Karunakara participated in the Economist's Global Healthcare Summit in London on 29 November 2012, and presented a keynote speech on visions for the future of healthcare and how we are going to pay for it.

>> Read the full speech here.

Below is an article by Kevin Grogan, published November 2012 in the PharmaTimes online.

While spending on healthcare in the developing world has increased in the last ten years, governments have to clearly define the levels of care they are prepared to offer their citizens.

That is the view of Unni Karunakara, international president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who was speaking at The Economist Global Healthcare summit in London. He noted that governments need to step up to the plate now that "donors have less appetite for giving" and it is a bad time for aid agencies to be scaling back with funds "as there does not seem to be anywhere to scale back to".

Dr Karunakara spoke about the situation in the Central African Republic, where life expectancy is 48 and "the system does not work". He spoke to the country's president recently who acknowledged that healthcare is not a priority at the moment, but contrasted this with the system in Niger where the government is showing leadership in tackling malnutrition and poor access to medicine.

He went on to lament the role of ministries of health which find it hard to make the case for increasing funding and argued that "a multi-sector approach" is needed. Dr Karunakara said that the private sector has played a significant role in helping the lower-income countries that have achieved universal healthcare, whereby the rich pay for their drugs and the poor get assistance. However, governments have to recognise their responsibilities to the latter, "there's no getting around that".

MSF has been highly vocal in criticising certain firms in the pharmaceutical industry and their attempts to defend their intellectual property in countries, most notably India. Dr Karunakara told PharmaTimes World News that he is very much in favour of a strong patent system but there is a problem "when patents trump people". 

He also claimed that the health problems in the developing world are now shifting from infectious to chronic diseases and governments need to prepare for the rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.