The 65th World Health Assembly: UHC high on Margaret Chan’s agenda
I’ve just returned from the 65th World Health Assembly where alongside my colleagues from Action for Global Health we launched a civil society Call to Action on Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Conferences of this scale and scope often leave me with mixed emotions. In some ways they are tiring affairs, with constant reminders of people’s differences and difficulties, but on the other hand I’m always energised by the commitment of my peers and scope creativity of the new ideas on offer. This conference, on the whole, has left me with an optimistic outlook given the positive response we have had to our call to action.
In her speech to open the Assembly, WHO’s head, Margaret Chan, kicked us off in just the right way when she clearly expressed her support for universal health coverage (UHC). Chan highlighted UHC as the most efficient way to reduce inequity:
“All of my personal experiences over the past five years, bring me to one overarching conclusion : Universal Health Coverage is the single post powerful concept that public health as offer…UHC is relevant to every person in this planet. It is a powerful equalizer that abolishes distinction between rich and poor, the privilege and the marginalized, the young and the old, ethnic groups, women and men. It is the best way to cement the gains made during the previous decade. It is the ultimate expression of fairness.”
Chan’s strong endorsement shows UHC is a priority for the WHO and will be at the heart of their work in the years to come.
Following Chan’s address, more than 70 countries expressed their interest in making a speech to reflect on their national experiences in moving towards UHC. In discussion amongst the interested countries, China and Japan shared their success stories from implementing UHC while others expressed their will to employ it.
The Senegalese delegates shared their experience in implementing UHC, highlighting the difficulties they encountered in financing it and increasing access for their population. Despite these difficulties, all the countries involved re-enforced their commitment to set up a strong and sustainable plan for UHC. A large number of countries reaffirmed the link between UHC and the MDGS: If we want to reach the MDGS, UHC is the key way to this goal.
All of this is very encouraging and proves the need to continue our support and work on this issue. We have to remember, however, that behind the umbrella term ‘UHC’ there are many different approaches. We need to be conscious that the way it is supported today is, in a majority of cases, by an insurance scheme. Thus it is not necessarily financed by progressive public spending for health which covers even the poorest and allows for access to healthcare free at the point of use.
This is why it is so critical to broadly share our civil society call to action for UHC. In this way we will build momentum behind the UHC movement which promotes a strong public health system with a large government contribution.
We are fighting for “health for all” and promoting the right to health; we believe that UHC is the best way to go about getting there and collectively we need to double our efforts in advocating towards this. This is all the more important on the international stage where the debate on the post-MDG framework is gathering pace.
Annick Jeantet, Advocacy Officer, Action for global Health and Global Health Advocates, France.