WCSDH in Rio: Chile: Steps forward and backward equity

Live from Rio, Cristobal Cuadrado, former president of IFMSA-Chile and member of the IFMSA Delegation to the WHO World Conference on Social Determinants of Health, writes about the Chilean experience in fighting health inequities and acting on social determinants of health. This October, IFMSA-Chile, with Cristobal as general coordinator, organized the First Congress on Health and Poverty in Santiago. The conference was graced by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, head of the 2008 WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health.

In the context of the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health at Rio de Janeiro, we are having a wide discussion about evidence and experiences of different countries into this field. This entry talks about the Chilean situation on Health Equity from the perspective of the Social Determinants of Health. Dr. Jeannete Vega, past Health Minister Deputy of Chile during the government of Michelle Bachelet, had summit a draft paper (nº25) entitled “Steps towards the health equity agenda in Chile”, this represent a summary and reflection of this paper.

Generalities about Chile and its Health System.

US$ 14,300 in 2010; the minimum wage rose to US$ 350 in 2010 and the current inflation and unemployment rates are 1.4% and 8.6% respectively. Chile scores high in several health indicators, such as life expectancy at birth (81.2 years for women and years for men), infant mortality (8.3 per 1000 live births). The Health System in Chile it is decentralized with 29 local Public Health Services that serve approximately 75 % of the population. The other 25% of the population is covered by a private insurance and provision scheme administered by a number of private insurance institutions (ISAPRE) that provide mainly curative services mostly to those with the highest income, and of younger ages.

As a little history, the actual shape of the Chilean health system is related with the undertaken by the Pinochet military government following the coup d’état in 1973, establishing competition between public and private health insurers and promoted private health services, following neoliberal principles. These principles have changed very little since the early 90ths were the democracy had come again to our country.

The employee mandatory contribution accounts for 7% of the salaries and goes to either the public insurance (FONASA) or the private insurance companies. The National Health Fund (FONASA, Fondo Nacional de Salud) manages public health insurance. All citizens in Chile are insured by Fonasa unless they choose to contribute to a private insurer (ISAPRE). Individuals covered by FONASA may receive health services from either public facilities or a preferred private provider. The Ministry of Health manages vertical programs, public health interventions, and the health care personnel from public facilities. The focus on Primary Heath is location of the health centers and the income level of the municipality, where a health center located in historical context leading to action on Social Determinants and Health Equity

Timeline on Health&Equity issues during the past 20 years

1990-2000

Two streams of social policies were developed during the 1990’s. Firstly, sectoral policies, such as education, health and housing, centered on guaranteeing an adequate level of services and benefits for all the population in an equal opportunity perspective. Secondly, specific programs directed towards disadvantaged vulnerable groups to ensure access to the opportunities available through the sectoral policies, economic growth and development in general.

2000 -2010

Between 2000 and 2006 the emphasis was put in introducing programs to improve structural social determinants: improving neighborhoods conditions (Chile Barrio), diminishing extreme poverty (Chile Solidario) and others. All these programs had in common a policy and programmatic approach centered on the perceived needs of the person, in a family and in a community, rather than on the supply based normative needs, with services built around them on an integrated (intersectoral) manner.  The landmark social program of the last government of this period is Chile Crece Contigo, a program with deep roots on the perspective of SDH, so we will go a little bit further on this experience.

 

Chile Crece Contigo (Chile Growth with you): an intersectoral approach to tackle inequities from the beginning.

The central principle on this program is “Equity from the beginning”. Chile Crece Contigo initiative for action included the Rights of Children and the State’s responsibility to ensure them as a universal principle, creating a integrated system based on rights during the life course. The Ministries of Planning and Finances leveraged funding to investigate policy alternatives, systematize and evaluate innovative local projects and develop possible interventions, including pilot experiences. The evidence base of effective interventions, that the Ministry of Planning and other sectors were building, also looked at international experience

After a long work, in October 2006 President Bachelet announced the creation of the integrated and integral social protection system for early child development, called Chile Crece Contigo. Its social equity goal was ambitious and aimed to eliminate socioeconomic differences in achieving maximum development potential across the social gradient.

The system would accompany children and their families from gestation until they entered the school system in pre-kinder, age 4 years. Chile Crece Contigo would provide all boys and girls access to universal benefits and services to take care of their necessities and support their development in each stage of the life cycle, during early childhood. Additionally, it would contribute to induce basic conditions in the psycho-emotional and physical environment in order to favor harmonious and integral development, in accordance with the evolution of their life course. During 2007 new programs were introduced that required integrated action by two or more sectors: Support for Biopsychosocial Development (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Development, the Fund for initiatives to support local child development initiatives (Ministry of Planning– municipalities) and Fund for Childhood Initiatives (Ministry of Planning – public, private and community agents).

Chile Crece Contigo offers different levels of support and guaranties for all boys, girls and their families. To each according to his/her specific needs.

  1. Strengthened legislation and standards of protection for maternity and paternity for all population.
  2. Free Nursery and Preschool access for the 60% of more vulnerable families
  3. Improved quality in prenatal care.
  4. Humanized birth (with participation of the father)
  5. Improved well child care, especially for the first 2 years (Biopsychosocial support)
  6. Strengthened access to health care for all boys and girls from the first prenatal control until entry into the school system
  7. Increased support and guarantees for boys and girls from the 60% of homes with lesser income or in special situations of vulnerability.

The process of implementation of Chile Crece Contigo to date includes the action in all the Municipalities within the Country through generation of the local intersectoral networks in charge. Since 2007:

  • More than 649.132 pregnant women have enter the program
  • Almost 75% of eligible births (non-emergency) have occurred with the presence of the father since 2009.
  • More than 90.000 visits to the households of pregnant women with social risk.
  • More than 1.000.000 educational sessions to promote early child development (ECD) with families of children at risk.
  • More than 270.000 visits to the household of families with children at risk in their development.
  • Since September 2009, every child born in Chile receives a set of basic implements for initial child care including a cradle, a baby carrier, massage oil, diapers, and much information on first care needed by babies and infants.

The decree that accompanied the Law established a Committee of 9 Ministers, headed by the Minister of Planning and including Health, Education, Justice, Women’s National Service (SERNAM), Finance, Presidency, Labor, Housing. The national technical committee has also been expanded to include all the public services related to children. The preeminence of Health for early child development is expressed in a permanent working group.

The principles of intersectorial approach, equity as a key social goal, focus on education and early childhood, high political commitment and social participation are remarkable aspects of this program that probably will produce outstanding results on the future development of the Chilean society.

National Agenda on SDH. And some lessons of the Chilean experience.

Given the presidential mandate to improve Equity in health as part of the broader objective of improving social Equity, in early 2008, the Chilean Ministry of Health decided to create the Executive Secretariat on Social Determinants of Health, as part of the Subsecretariat of Public Health, within this area an special plan had been create: the “13 pasos hacia la Equidad” (13 steps towards Equity – www.equidad.cl) initiative, aimed at improving the level and distribution of health within the population of Chile. As part of the agenda, six objectives were defined, each of them involving concrete actions aimed at contributing to equity in health in Chile:

Specific objectives of the agenda:

  1. To contribute to the reduction of social inequalities which generate health inequities
  2. To reduce inequities which restrict and limit access to health and health services
  3. To implement actions for the “social inclusion” of excluded groups and territories
  4. To develop competencies on equity and social determinants of health within the Ministry of Health staff
  5. To generate tools for planning, monitoring and evaluation of the SDH and equity in the health sector
  6. To establish bodies and mechanisms for the coordination and integration of various sectors to develop the necessary actions to reduce health inequities

The first of these objectives had been addressed partially through the Chile Crece Contigo that we had already talked about. Another example is the objective 3 had become practical with the implementation of the programs “Vulnerable Counties” and “Vulnerable Neighborhood” focusing on the 96 most vulnerable counties and 68 neighborhood of the country with the goal to promote the reduction of inequities in health in the most communities, by means of interventions aimed at the main barriers of access to health services and to the social protection system, which were identified and prioritized by the community itself.

This Secretariat and his worked until March 2010 promoting a work agenda. We had to make the point that one of the first actions of the new central right party Goverment was to close this important secretariat

Some lessons

The “13 pasos” agenda is also one of few experiences in Chile where the Ministry of Health has been able to play a true leading role. The process of developing and implementing the “13 pasos” agenda influenced the philosophy of people within the ministry of Health but also from other sectors. During the process, we learned some lessons that could be generalizable to others that are involved in similar processes.

  • Lesson 1: In order to strengthen health equity, there must exist explicit political commitment at the highest level
  • Lesson 2: The need for an explicit agenda with incentives
  • Lesson 3: Building trust is a must
  • Lesson 4: Intersectoral relationships are crucial
  • Lesson 5: The community is essential
  • Lesson 6: Training as a strategy for institutionalization

Actual challenges, civil society participation and the future

 

The inequalities in Chile area a huge problem. On income measures for example, the richest 10% earn 36 times more than the poorest 10% and the 20% richest group of Chile share about 50% of the GDP of the country. Taking some health examples, with a very good Infant Mortality Rate of 7.7 as average, there is a 3-fold difference between the less educated and better educated groups. Even more, in life expectancy, the gap increase till 14 and 10 years between the richest and poorest groups, for woman and men respectively. Nevertheless, the worst statistical analysis is that the trends are not diminishing but increasing in the last decades.

In this context we organize and held at Santiago, past 7,8,9 and 15 of October the first Congress on Health and Poverty in Chile, as a voice from the Civil Society to contribute to maintain the health and equity issues and social determinants of health approach into the national agenda. IFMSA was of course involved. It was more concretely, a Health and Equity congress, to widely discuss this issue, the actual policies and problems, gathering civil society, politicians, academicians and other stakeholders with a perspective of future. For Spanish speakers you could enter to our webpage to have more information and access to the presentations. Soon we will have all the conferences online for free access.

At the actual context, the urgent situation and critical inequalities on our country, the civil society is reacting and taking their own responsibility. So different NGOs and young leaders are getting around a platform todiscuss, propose, advocate and create whole society awareness of the needed actions to tackle the terrible inequalities of our country. Heath&Equity will be the future on that. You could check a small presentation with the graphs and a wider analysis and some proposals from the Health&Equity civil society movement in Chile for the future: http://www.saludypobreza.cl/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Towards-Equity-in-Health.pdf

Do you want to know more about Chilean experience on Health and Equity? Discuss a little bit about? Share your troughs? More than welcome. ccuadrado@saludypobreza.cl

Cristobal Cuadrado

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