As the world prepares to celebrate World Health Day on 7 April, we take the time to understand the concept of universal health coverage which is this year’s theme.
Before we do that, it is important to note that statistics from the World Health Organization and the World Bank indicate that close to 500 million people lack access to at least one of the seven essential health services. Another 100 million are pushed further into poverty as a result of spending on health care.
What is Universal Health Coverage?
It is a concept that aims to ensure everybody has access to quality health services where and when they need them, without any financial impediment. It is not just about ensuring everyone is covered but also ensuring that everybody has access to care when and where they need it.
It requires an efficient health system that is capable of providing the entire population with access to quality service, health care professionals, medication and technology. A financial model that protects the citizenry from potential financial hardships and poverty as a result of spending on health care is also required.
Simply put, people are healthier as a result of access to health services; protection from financial risk will prevent people from being into poverty. Universal health coverage is therefore a key component of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
One must however note that universal health coverage will not be attained overnight but rapid strides can be made to attain it.
How do we attain it?
There are several factors worth consideration when nations seek to attain universal health coverage.
- Strong, efficient, well-run health systems that meet priority health needs through:
- Informing, educating and encouraging people to stay healthy and prevent illness;
- detecting health conditions early; having the capacity to treat disease; and assisting patients with rehabilitation
- ensuring sensitive palliative care where needed.
- Affordability – a system for financing health services so people do not suffer financial hardship when using them.
- Availability of essential medicines and technologies to diagnose and treat medical problems.
- A sufficient capacity of well-trained, motivated health workers to provide the services to meet patients’ needs based on the best available evidence.
- Actions to address social determinants of health such as education, living conditions and household income which affect people’s health and their access to services.
It is also important to provide the essential health services for all and sundry. This is inclusive of treatment services for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, mental health and non-communicable diseases.
What is the impact of universal health coverage?
Multiple studies point to the fact that universal health coverage impacts directly on a country’s health and welfare. People are more productive and able to contribute to their families and communities when they are allowed to access and use health facilities.
Protection from financial risk also shields the vulnerable segments of the population from being pushed into poverty when they have to meet their healthcare costs.
Universal health coverage is therefore capable of promoting wellness through its intended strides that also promote sustainable development, poverty reduction and the overall reduction of any social inequalities.0