WHO must prepare health ministries for trade liberalisation

December 08, 2005

The World Health Organization (WHO) has an important role in ensuring health ministries everywhere have the knowledge to make future trade in health services accessible and equitable, states an editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet.

The ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is due to start on Dec 13 in Hong Kong. One of the key features of WTO's agenda is progressive liberalisation of trade in services, which will eventually include health services. These changes present challenges for ministries of health who must accurately assess health risks in a dynamic and unfamiliar economic environment, and supply trade negotiators with the necessary evidence of the implications of multilateral trade agreements for health. Unfortunately, few health ministries are currently doing so, states the editorial.

The Lancet comments: "By next year, when the extended deadline for the Doha trade talks expires, it is essential that all health ministries be in a position to confidently assess the health implications of trade policies, and mitigate any foreseeable health effects. Here, WHO has an important role. It should continue to expand support for health ministers through guidance on international standards for health-related goods and services; advice on trade rules from a public-health perspective; provision of tools to assess the possible implications of trade agreements; and communication of best practices in trade negotiations that might affect health...WTO's liberalisation agenda underlines the fact that determinants of health are increasingly global rather than national. To reap the myriad benefits of this change, it is essential that health ministries everywhere have the knowledge to ensure that future trade in health services reinforces the principles of access and equity."
Contact: The Lancet press office 207-424-4949/4249, pressoffice@lancet.com


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