Accelerate Access to Universal Health Coverage adopted

More than 500 organisations from about 100 countries have united behind the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day with a call on policymakers to prioritise the initiative.

The worldwide coalition, made up of leading health and development organisations worldwide urged governments to accelerate reforms that would ensure that everyone, everywhere, access quality health services without being forced into poverty.

The first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day, launched in New York, was to stress the importance of universal access to health services for saving lives, ending extreme poverty, building resilience against the health effects of climate change and ending deadly epidemics such as Ebola.

The Rockefeller Foundation is spearheading the new coalition with support from World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank Group.

Mr Michael Myers, Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation said: “The need for equitable access to quality health care has never been greater, and there is unprecedented demand for universal health coverage around the world.”

He noted: “Universal health coverage is an idea whose time has come – because health for all saves lives strengthens nations and is achievable and affordable for every country.”

For much of the 20th century, universal health coverage was limited to a few high-income countries, but in the past two decades, a number of lower- and middle-income countries have successfully embraced reforms to make quality health care universally available.

Countries as diverse as Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, Rwanda, Turkey and Thailand have made tremendous progress toward universal health coverage in recent years. Today, the two most populous countries, India and China, are pursuing universal health coverage, and more than 80 countries have asked the WHO for implementation assistance.

Dr Tim Evans, Senior Director for the Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice at the World Bank Group said: “Putting people’s health needs ahead of their ability to pay stems poverty and stimulates growth. Universal health coverage is an essential ingredient to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity within a generation.”

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation at the WHO explained that “Ebola is only the most recent example of why universal health coverage is the most powerful concept in public health.”

She said: “Investing in strong, equitable health systems is the only way to truly protect and improve lives, particularly in the face of emerging threats like the global rise of non-communicable diseases and increasingly severe natural disasters.”

The more than 500 organisations that participated in the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day coalition represent a diverse cross-section of global health and development issues, including infectious diseases, maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases and palliative care.

Across these issues, knowledge and technologies exist to save and improve lives in significant numbers, but the impact of these tools is severely hampered by lack of equitable access to quality health services.

Ghana has signed on to the coalition made up of African Women’s Development Fund, Community and Family Aid Foundation, Federation of Ghana Medical Students’ Associations and Ghana National Association of Teachers.

Ghana’s health financing system holds important lessons for other low- and middle-income countries seeking to implement universal health coverage initiatives.

The United Nation’s unanimous resolution endorsed universal health coverage. It said more than one billion people lack access to basic health care, and another 100 million fall into poverty trying to access it each year.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak is only the most recent reminder of the desperate need to strengthen health systems for everyone, everywhere.

Universal Health Coverage Day marks the two-year anniversary of a United Nations resolution, unanimously passed on 12 December 2012, which endorsed universal health coverage as a pillar of sustainable development and global security.

Despite progress in combating global killers such as HIV and/AIDS and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus and diphtheria, the global gap between those who could access needed health services without fear of financial hardship and those who cannot is widening.

Each year, 100 million people fall into poverty because they or a family member becomes seriously ill and they have to pay for care out of their own pockets. Around one billion people worldwide cannot even access the health care they need, paving the way for disease outbreaks to become catastrophic epidemics. GNA

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