15 Oct 2014

Ebola crisis: action by regional groups is key to tackling health crises and poverty

A global research project reports that the Ebola crisis has exposed weaknesses in the international management of healthcare, and highlighted the need for regional associations of countries to have a bigger role in strengthening health systems and poverty reduction. Some 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and this is a major cause of ill-health and premature death.

Ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty [Friday 17 October], a policy briefing from The Poverty Reduction and Regional Integration (PRARI) group, led by The Open University, outlines that regional groups hold the key to tackling poverty, managing healthcare cross-borders and preventing - and responding - to pandemics. Examples of these groups include ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa), SADC (Southern African Development Community), UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), and the EU (European Union).

Professor of Social Policy at The Open University Nicola Yeates leads the £500,000 project and said: “The Ebola crisis has laid bare the limitations of international action to respond to specific diseases and strengthen health systems. The UN needs to sharpen its focus on strengthening health systems. The World Bank needs to channel some of its promised $400million Ebola fund into strengthening regional health strategies in the long-term. Tapping into the unrealised potential of regional associations of nations would be a positive outcome from this deadly pandemic; and the benefits would stretch further to address the poverty which fosters these medical disasters.”

The policy briefing from the international researchers reached these conclusions:
- Prompt, co-ordinated international action by global and regional organisations is needed for countries with weak health systems and high poverty rates.

- Many nations have already developed region-wide health and education programmes, these should be built on to strengthen action on poverty reduction

- Empowered regional groups can play a larger part in achieving international social development goals

- Pooling resources and risks can help scale up healthcare provision and enable better responses to disasters

- Common trade and tax rules can help build fiscal capacity in regions to support social priorities

- Regional strategies can reduce social inequality, defend human rights and create inclusive welfare and health systems.

- More should be learned from what regional groups are already doing to reduce poverty – good practice should be identified, shared and scaled up.

The PRARI research project runs for two years and will contribute to the new Sustainable Development Goals for 2015.

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