09 December 2016

Act with Ambition: Health and Wellbeing for All

By Nana Taona Kuo, Senior Manager, Every Woman Every Child

While this year has brought important new commitments, we still have a long way to go to achieve the many benefits that Universal Health Coverage (UHC) can bring.

Too many people still suffer severe financial consequences when they or their family members become ill: 17 per cent of people in low- and middle-income countries are pushed or further pushed into poverty because of health spending. Up to one-third of households in Africa and Southeast Asia borrow money or sell assets to pay for health care. This is simply unacceptable.

Fortunately, there is growing global consensus that universal health coverage is a smart investment and an achievable goal. World leaders, including the G7 and prominent institutions, have systematically re-affirmed that health is a human right, that no one should go bankrupt when they get sick and that universal health coverage underpins our collective security and prosperity.

The United Nations has highlighted the importance of universal health coverage as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, and UN Member States have agreed that achieving it by 2030 is a priority. This includes financial risk protection, access to quality, essential health care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

There is no doubt among experts that universal health coverage maintains and improves health, which, in turn, can help people escape poverty. Financial risk protection and strategic investments in health are particularly important. Every $1 invested in health today can produce up to $20 in full-income growth within a generation. We need to stop seeing health as a cost and start seeing it as an investment.

Universal health coverage also pays a resilience dividend. In times of distress — including humanitarian situations and crises — health minimizes the shock in lives and livelihoods, particularly for women, children and adolescents, who bear an extraordinary burden in such circumstances. Their needs are rarely met as they lose access to health and other support systems.

Universal health coverage must prioritise the most vulnerable and put them front and center. As we support countries in their path toward sustainable development, we need to ensure that they are not forgotten. Fifteen years from now, we hope that everyone has access to quality and affordable health services. For that to happen, we must redouble our efforts now to ensure more equitable health coverage systems that are genuinely universal, integrated and centered on the people who use them.

Photo credit: IOM Myanmar/Valeria Turrisi

The Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health specifically outlines the critical importance of universal health coverage for the attainment of health standards that allow people to not only survive, but thrive and achieve their potential. By working together, we have already helped save and improve millions of lives around the globe. We must do even more in the new sustainable development era to maintain the progress achieved and address emerging needs, leaving no one behind.

We can monitor progress toward this vision through the proportion of the population that benefits from essential health services, particularly reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, including access to family planning, antenatal and delivery care and immunization. Good health allows women, children and adolescents to go beyond survival.

There has been good news. Earlier this year, heads of state at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-VI) vowed to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage in Africa. To help countries implement their health reforms, the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria committed to invest $24 billion in the continent over the next three to five years.

To build on this momentum, the World Health Organization announced at the UN General Assembly in September the establishment of the International Health Partnership for Universal Health Coverage2030. The platform aims to strengthen coordination, advocacy and accountability at the global and country levels and is an exciting moment for progress toward universal health coverage.

This is our call for this Universal Health Coverage Day: let’s act with ambition on health and wellbeing for all, and particularly for women, children and adolescents, everywhere.