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Will Europe take a stand against user fees?

Last month I was invited to attend a regular meeting that the European Union holds with charities and NGOs as part of their process to produce an EU Communication on global health. This is important as the process will set out EU policy, which all EU Member States are expected to respect when acting as donors. Participants attending the meeting wanted to be briefed about the 23 September event on free healthcare, organised by the British government in New York. This event was the culmination of the Taskforce on Innovative Financing for Health Systems, which set out to identify how substantial new money could be raised for health systems.

Brussels-based campaigners were interested in how the event had come to happen, why the UK government had focused on removal of user fees and how London-based NGOs worked with the government. I said that the Taskforce outcome was, in itself, disappointing as the ambitions to raise substantial new money did not materialise, particularly as rich governments were unwilling to look at a Currency Transaction Levy, which could have raised the money.

However, the opportunity to work with the government and get a clear commitment against user fees for healthcare (user fees mean that people have to pay every time they visit a clinic) was a good opportunity. Save the Children has long campaigned against user fees and there is a growing consensus that removing this obstacle is an important step to making healthcare free to all at the point of use.

There was a strong consensus from the NGOs and charities in the room against user fees, and the importance of acting on them. The question now is whether the EU Communication will take the same approach and say clearly that removing them is an important step for healthcare access and to reduce mortality and illness in developing countries.

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