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Gabriel Wikström is no longer a government minister, Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport
Sweden and Chile aim to enter social welfare agreement
On 23–25 November Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport Gabriel Wikström visited Chile to exchange experiences with his Chilean counterparts and President Michelle Bachelet. Sweden and Chile want to learn from each other in order to build egalitarian and sustainable welfare nations. The ambition is to produce a comprehensive memorandum of understanding in the welfare sector.
This interest in listening to each other's experiences is based in part on the historically strong ties between the countries that resulted from Sweden's solidarity with Chile's population during the time the country was a dictatorship. The relations between Sweden and Chile and current political issues in each country were discussed at a meeting between Mr Wikström, President Bachelet and Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz Valenzuela.
They also discussed the planned memorandum of understanding, which is intended to encompass cooperation on health and medical care, and alcohol, narcotics, doping substances and tobacco (ANDT), as well as gender equality and the rights of the child. The hope is that an agreement can be signed in connection with the Chilean State Visit to Sweden in May 2016.
Desire to cooperate on a number of different health issues
In addition to meeting President Bachelet and Mr Muñoz Valenzuela, Mr Wikström met four ministers and the director of the government agency with responsibility for ANDT issues.
The meeting with Minister of Health Carmen Castillo Taucher demonstrated that there is great interest in cooperating in the area of equitable health, which is an issue of high priority for Sweden. Mr Wikström described the Swedish commission for equitable health and the importance of addressing health in all policy areas. Other areas of mutual interest include ANDT, chronic diseases, obesity, antimicrobial resistance and skills supply.
"We had the opportunity to examine many topics, in both global health and national issues. There are several areas in which our two countries can learn from and help each other," says Mr Wikström.
Consensus on the importance of preventive efforts
To gain insight into how Chile works on ANDT issues, Mr Wikström met the minister responsible – Minister of the Interior and Public Security Jorge Burgos Varela – and the director of the agency responsible – SENDA's Mariano Montenegro.
Chile is fighting problems related to the unsafe use of alcohol and narcotics among young people. To strengthen its preventive work, Chile wanted to hear about Sweden's experience of coordinated preventive efforts, which encompass all addictive substances and permeate every sector of society. Mr Wikström also made a study visit to an out-patient clinic for people with substance abuse problems.
"The visit was very worthwhile. The clinic works actively with social inclusion, that is, trying to see the person's entire life situation, such as housing, employment, family relations and self-motivation," says Mr Wikström.
Mr Wikström discussed the challenges facing a sedentary population with Chile's Minister for Sport Natalia Riffo Alonso. About 70 per cent of the children in Chile are considered to have a sedentary lifestyle. The Chilean Government was in the process of implementing a series of dialogues with citizens across the country to identify problems and solutions. Unlike Sweden, Chile's governance, both in this area and in general, is much more centralised.
"Although there are a number of differences between Sweden and Chile, there is much we can continue our discussions on, not least activity and exercise among children and young people," says Mr Wikström.
Gender equality an area of mutual interest
As a representative of Sweden's feminist government, Mr Wikström also met the Director of the National Women's Service Claudia Pascual Grau. She presented various gender equality reforms and initiatives the Chilean Government is working on. These include the legalisation of abortion in certain cases, combating violence against women, and efforts to improve financial equality between women and men, women's integration in the labour market and their representation in decision-making bodies. Gender equality is one of the areas that Sweden and Chile want to include in the broad memorandum of understanding on welfare issues and continue exchanging experiences on.
"I am pleased that we had the opportunity to discuss gender equality in greater depth and continue the discussion that I know my colleague Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality Åsa Regnér and Ms Pascual Grau had conducted earlier. I would like to see closer cooperation between Chile and Sweden in this important area," says Mr Wikström.
In addition to meeting the ministers, Mr Wikström met local representatives of Swedish companies and listened to their experience of working in Chile. Their discussions included the challenges of finding forums in which politicians, companies and representatives of the research and education communities can meet so that everyone – based on their respective roles and expertise – can contribute to building strong welfare systems.
Memorandum of understanding
A memorandum of understanding is a non-legally-binding framework agreement that expresses the parties’ mutual understanding and ambitions. The agreement usually covers the main principles and administration of cooperation and the issues or areas that are included.