Pharmaceuticals and Health Policies

Opening Speech by Mr.Anwar Fazal, President of the International Organization of Consumers Unions, at the IOCU/ROAP Regional Workshop on Pharmaceuticals and Health Policies, at University Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia on 22- 25 November, 1983.

Six years ago, 157 countries meeting in a place called Alma Ata in the erstwhile USSR, committed themselves to “Health for All by the Year 2000”.

To ensure that health, as part of the contribution of these 157 countries of the world, the world now spends one million US dollars  a minute on bombs,  guns and   tanks, while 50,000 people die every day from basic needs, such as lack of water and sanitation.

To ensure people’s health, the world has now stored nuclear bombs, the equivalent of one million Hiroshimas – enough to destroy every single city in the world, not once, but several times over.

Far from conquering the world’s communicable diseases – malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, river blindness, trachoma, sleeping sickness – we seem to have succeeded only in making many of these major communicable diseases much worse.

Governments have all too often squandered their scarce resources on non-essential, wasteful and even harmful health policies, health policies that involve an inappropriate reliance on pharmaceuticals, irrelevant medical education, and maldeveloped medical services. Through ignorance, inefficiency and sometimes just sheer stupidity, many countries get themselves caught in, what has been described as, the “drug trap”. These problems are too often marred by the drug industry and, sadly, a health profession that is motivated by what is called “cash register ethics”.

Here in Penang, six years after Alma Ata, some 30 people – little people – from little organisations, will talk about health and they will talk about health for all, not in the year 2000 but about health now!

What can we as individuals, citizen groups, professionals and government agencies who are concerned about health issues do about these problems?

We will, over these four days, do four things. The first by being together we will show and strengthen our solidarity, our solidarity as people who share one world, breathe one air and drink one water and are subjected to global pressures, to global solutions that very often act against us. So this is our first objective, to express our solidarity.

The second objective will be that this meeting will give an opportunity for us to be more sensitive, to be much more aware of what actually is going on around us on these issues relating to health and pharmaceuticals. We will become more aware and more conscious not only of what our problems are but we hope to become aware of alternatives. This then is the second reason for us to come together - the increasing of our awareness.

The third goal is a word which I like very much – sharing. During these four days there will be opportunity for sharing – sharing the skills that we have with people who are beginning this kind of work, sharing our failures so that we will know and do not repeat the mistakes that others have made, sharing our victories so that we may be inspired to take similar action. That then is the second reason for us to come together – the increasing of our awareness.

The fourth, and I think the most important one because in the end it is that which will determine change – and this goal is action. What can we, as little people in little organisations, as concerned citizens, do to make the changes that are necessary. That is going to involve actions – little actions, big actions and coordinated actions.

This seminar, this workshop for us, for IOCU, is a very special event.

This is the first workshop that we have organised around pharmaceuticals with the four objectives in mind, and in this kind of way. This is the first time that we have got together people from ASEAN countries - Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Japan, from Austria and Australia, UK,  USA and even from Chile.

We have assembled a very unusual mix in Penang; we have a global network of people who are working on these issues, who can share skills and enable us to act on problems from both a local and global perspective. Together, our work must and will make a difference to health now.

Thank you.

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