Naidoo, who is Chairperson of the Public Health Association of South Africa, challenged public health practitioners to ‘care enough’ for the poor and marginalized or ‘pack our bags and leave’.
‘There are enough reasons to stay out there in the communities,’ Naidoo told the delegates, who range from local and international health care workers to academics and economists.
Naidoo reminded delegates that the challenge of public health practitioners was to always ‘work in difficult times’.
‘The challenge of public health has never been greater, ensuring that the vulnerable, weak, ill and poor receive the care they need, ‘ said Naidoo.
Keynote speaker, Dr T Sundararaman, Executive Director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre in India, said unchecked privatization had a huge impact on the lives of the poor people.
He revealed that the number of people not seeking healthcare in India due to poverty had risen from 15 to 24 percent in rural areas and from 10 to 21 percent in urban areas.
‘The cost of healthcare has been a major contributor to poverty, bankruptcy and even suicides,’ Sundararaman said.
Sundararaman shared details of an intervention started in 2000 where 54 000, ‘Mitanins’ (women health volunteers) were trained in a range of preventative, promotive and curative health interventions.
Mitanins visited newborns on their first day, assisting the mother with infant feeding choices and essential newborn care. They were also able to offer home based care services to address diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory illness.
‘The rural infant mortality rate plunged,’ Sundararaman said.
He said the programme faced some political opposition once the Mitanins became more mobilized and started addressing issues such as women empowerment and deforestation.
However, the Mitanin programme has been expanded nationally in the form of ‘Ashas’, another word for hope, which has seen almost 600 000 women health volunteers deployed across the country, while a further 400 000 are currently being trained.