Universal health coverage: a political choice

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WHO DG, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s speech at a side event during the High-Level Political Forum…

It is a pleasure to be with you today. This is one of the most important events I will attend in New York this week. As you know, I regard universal health coverage as WHO’s top priority. As I have said many times before, all roads lead to universal health coverage.

For me, universal coverage is an ethical issue. Do we want our fellow citizens to die because they are poor? Or millions of families to fall into poverty because they lack financial risk protection? These are very important questions.

As you know, today more than 400 million people lack access to essential health services and 40% of the world’s population lack social protection.

These people are being denied a fundamental a human right.

That’s why it’s so important that universal health coverage is included in the Sustainable Development Agenda. Indeed, it is the centrepiece of the Sustainable Development Goal health targets. If countries choose to invest in making progress towards universal health coverage, they lay the foundation for making progress towards all the other health targets and other goals – like ending poverty, improving gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and more.

I know from personal experience that it is possible for all countries to achieve universal health coverage. It’s a matter of mainly political commitment.

Today, WHO colleagues have published a paper that shows how, even at low levels of national income, countries can make progress. Indeed, many countries at different levels of economic development have implemented universal health coverage.

This shows that this is more of a political challenge, as I said earlier, than an economic one.

Ten days ago, at the G20, world leaders issued their 2017 communiqué. And that was the first time WHO was invited to the G20 summit. Let me quote from what they said: “We recall universal health coverage is a goal adopted in the 2030 Agenda and recognize that strong health systems are important to effectively address health crises. We call on the UN to keep global health high on the political agenda and we strive for cooperative action to strengthen health systems worldwide…”

This is a call to action for all of us.

So how will WHO help countries achieve universal health coverage? This is another very important question.

We know that every country has its own unique needs. We will catalyse proactive engagement and advocacy with global, regional, and national political structures and leaders – including heads of state and national parliaments.

We will help countries work out where they stand on UHC, in relation to others by benchmarking their achievements.

We will document best practices to show countries what has worked elsewhere, and what could work for them. Countries learn best from other countries they consider their peers.

And we will provide technical assistance – based on countries’ specific needs – across the full range of health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

These investments also have payoffs beyond health, for poverty.

The potential payoff is tremendous. It’s children who survive beyond their fifth birthday because they are immunized. It’s women who are able to start small businesses because they don’t spend all their capital on health care. It’s men who don’t die before their time from a noncommunicable disease.

Many of us will be back here in New York at the General Assembly in September. Let us use that as an opportunity to make transformational improvements in world health. Let’s aim to make universal health coverage a reality for everyone.

Thank you.

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