7 April, 2017

CEO Blog: Unlocking World Health

World Health Day
by Molly Harriss Olson

Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand CEO Molly Harriss Olson explores what a healthy humanity looks like in light of this year’s World Health Day theme of depression.  

Despite the fact that healthcare for every living person on Earth today would cost a fraction of 0.1% of global GDP, we live in a devastatingly unhealthy world. According to the report World Health Statistics 2016, the scale of the challenge every year is breathtaking:

  • 300 000 women die each year due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth;
  • There are 9.6 million new tuberculosis cases and 214 million malaria cases every year;
  • 800 000 people commit suicide.

In light of these startling statistics, it’s clear that something needs to be done. That’s why this World Health Day, the World Health Organization is opening the doors for us to talk about healthcare around the globe. This year’s theme is all about a hidden problem in the global healthcare system: depression.

Let’s talk about depression

The rate of depression is on the rise, with more than 350 million people affected worldwide. Fewer than half of these people receive treatment. Some die by suicide. It’s a very real and very dangerous issue and so it’s important that we must raise awareness and continue to speak about it. 

It is a problem that crosses global poverty boundaries and affects rich and poor alike. It is one of the hidden problems and it can affect people whether they live in Calcutta or Canberra, Portugal or Peru. Despite this, the rate of depression is often exacerbated in rural areas and farming communities where social isolation, the risk of unemployment and volatile conditions lead to a climate of uncertainty and fear.

Mental health care in rural areas is extremely limited

Wherever people lack social protection and where payment for healthcare is largely out of pocket, patients can be confronted with catastrophic expenses. When mental healthcare is limited, people often do not – or cannot – seek assistance and are restricted from vital support.

In India, an average forty-one farmers die by suicide each day, a number that is almost 50 percent higher than the national average. Despite these staggering figures, there are only 43 government-funded mental health hospitals located throughout the country and just three mental health professionals for every million people.

How we can help

Throughout the world, there needs to be a push to provide safe, affordable and readily available mental healthcare to a range of sufferers. This can be done by improving access to health services, hospitals and doctors, and also by stabilising the economy that people work in, to give them a surer sense of the future.

The Fairtrade System is by no means a panacea, and we do not claim to have all the answers to this extremely complex problem. However, by becoming Fairtrade certified, farming cooperatives are able to choose to invest in developing their healthcare systems and provide support to the farmers who need it most. A Honduran coffee cooperative, COCAFCAL, used their Fairtrade Premium to support the local health centre and pay the doctor’s monthly salary. Across in Aceh, Indonesia, all-women coffee cooperative Koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo invested in maternity care, reproductive health, medical instruments and supplies for mums and babies.

What we see is that farmers who can foresee a future are likely to be more satisfied with their lives overall. If their lives are made stable through the provision of affordable healthcare, and if their economic future is secured, they are more likely to be positive about their lives in general.

COCAFCAL and Wanita Gayo have both invested their Premium in improving working conditions, allowing workers to plan for the future when money is a bit tighter. By securing long-term commitment to their social and economic development, these farmers can feel more secure in their lives, and feel more empowered to develop their skills – a key counterpoint to depression.

The World Health Statistics are helping us all measure and track the achievements; and Fairtrade for nearly 30 years has been a global trading system that transforms the health outcomes of all the 1.65 million marginalised farmers and workers growing and producing Fairtrade certified products.

We hope that by World Health Day in 2030, we will be able to really celebrate success, with the provision of healthcare throughout the world.