UHC in the SDG era: World Health Day 2018

“Universal Health Coverage (or UHC) is a political choice … Health is a right and not a luxury,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), last week in a series of press releases, speeches, and tweets in the buildup to Saturday’s World Health Day (7th April).

This is the 70th iteration of World Health Day, coinciding with the 70th Anniversary of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and the 70th Anniversary of the WHO. The ambitious plans for both great institutions – the former, a publicly funded health service to provide world class care for all citizens, no matter their financial status, and the latter a global body to fight diseases - were made in times of global exit from turmoil and deep austerity.



The NHS and its basis, the Beveridge model, are part of the inspiration for UHC around the world today. Global roll-out of UHC echoes the sentiment “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”, said by Aneurin Bevan (1945-1951 Minister of Health and commissioner of the NHS),

UHC is the crucial tool to achieving a nation’s human rights obligations, legally and morally; this is the most important reason for worldwide coverage. Additionally, from a national security standpoint, UHC can protect against bio-terrorism and pandemic diseases. From the perspective of economic development, cuts to public health incur greater costs than money saved, whereas investment in healthcare can have up to a tenfold return into the national economy.

UHC comes in all forms and many systems. In the last year or so, UHC has taken centre stage at many international health discussions, from Tokyo to Berlin, and everywhere in between. A form of UHC in India was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The plan is to increase public health, primary care facilities and health workers, as well as access to secondary and tertiary care. It is nicknamed “Modi-care” as a play on the name of the expansion of affordable care act dubbed “Obama-Care”, brought in under the Obama administration. Neither the Obama- or Modi-care systems are truly universal, and they still leave many without equitable access to quality healthcare. Yet these ambitious policies for expanding health coverage, even in these relatively conservative societies, are spreading and this is (partly) due to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are 17 goals set by the United Nations General Assembly from consultation with global civil society and 193 nations. Adopted in 2015, the SDGs have a 15-year period for all countries to work in. They are ambitious but attainable. The third SDG, Good Health and Well-Being for People, has 13 specific targets. The eighth target is to achieve UHC “including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all” as minimum requirements for healthcare. SDG 3.7 also stipulates the requirement of universal access to “sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes”.

On a global scale, we are set to miss the targets laid out in the SDGs spectacularly. However, the movement of many low- and middle-income countries towards increasing access to health care (despite the UK and US political situations decreasing access to health care for their citizens) is a sign of progress, and of hope, that UHC can (eventually) be achieved.

The NHS and its basis, the Beveridge model, are part of the inspiration for UHC around the world today. Global roll-out of UHC echoes the sentiment “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”, said by Aneurin Bevan (1945-1951 Minister of Health and commissioner of the NHS),

UHC is the crucial tool to achieving a nation’s human rights obligations, legally and morally; this is the most important reason for worldwide coverage. Additionally, from a national security standpoint, UHC can protect against bio-terrorism and pandemic diseases. From the perspective of economic development, cuts to public health incur greater costs than money saved, whereas investment in healthcare can have up to a tenfold return into the national economy.

UHC comes in all forms and many systems. In the last year or so, UHC has taken centre stage at many international health discussions, from Tokyo to Berlin, and everywhere in between. A form of UHC in India was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The plan is to increase public health, primary care facilities and health workers, as well as access to secondary and tertiary care. It is nicknamed “Modi-care” as a play on the name of the expansion of affordable care act dubbed “Obama-Care”, brought in under the Obama administration. Neither the Obama- or Modi-care systems are truly universal, and they still leave many without equitable access to quality healthcare. Yet these ambitious policies for expanding health coverage, even in these relatively conservative societies, are spreading and this is (partly) due to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are 17 goals set by the United Nations General Assembly from consultation with global civil society and 193 nations. Adopted in 2015, the SDGs have a 15-year period for all countries to work in. They are ambitious but attainable. The third SDG, Good Health and Well-Being for People, has 13 specific targets. The eighth target is to achieve UHC “including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all” as minimum requirements for healthcare. SDG 3.7 also stipulates the requirement of universal access to “sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes”.

On a global scale, we are set to miss the targets laid out in the SDGs spectacularly. However, the movement of many low- and middle-income countries towards increasing access to health care (despite the UK and US political situations decreasing access to health care for their citizens) is a sign of progress, and of hope, that UHC can (eventually) be achieved.

#WHD18

#healthforall

Further Reading

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/commentaries/2017/universal-health-coverage/en/

About me

Veterinary Medicine student intercalating in global health at Imperial College. My main interest in global health is international politics, law, economics, and governance. Most of my “free time” is spent on Skype meetings. @IsaacATFlorence

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