Highlighting the NHS’ contribution to global health

As the oldest universal healthcare system in the world, the NHS’ 70th anniversary celebration would be incomplete without an acknowledgment of its role in global health and international development

Highlighting the NHS’ contribution to global health

By Miski Abdi, Save the Children, UK and member of the Action for Global Health (AfGH) network

At the heart of the NHS is its pioneering belief in Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The rallying call that everyone, everywhere, deserves the right to healthcare. A call that the UK answered in 1948 but remains largely unanswered by other countries, which is why the upcoming Global Symposium on Health Systems is critical in the global push for UHC.

As the oldest universal healthcare system in the world, the NHS’ 70th anniversary celebration would be incomplete without an acknowledgment of its role in global health and international development.

As part of the NHS’ 70th anniversary celebration, the Action for Global Health (AfGH) supported a Parliamentary debate hosted by DUP’s Health Spokesperson Jim Shannon MP on the role of universal health coverage in tackling preventable and treatable diseases. In the run up to the debate, we worked closely with both the Department of Health and the Department for International Development, we also provided parliamentary briefings for MPs.

Jim Shannon MP who lead the debate stated, “the NHS is the type of British export that can help underpin the UK’s global Britain vision” he went on to explore the effects of global inequality on quality and access to health, highlighting the tragedy of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumonia.

Jim Shannon and Sharon Hodgson MP spoke about the distressing statistics on pneumonia, the world’s biggest infectious killer of children, taking the lives of two children a minute. Shannon argued “we know that an accessible and freehealthsystem is the most effective way of treating pneumonia. A fully integrated universal healthcare model can care for a child from the moment they are born until they reach adulthood”.

Parliamentarians across party lines united in calling for the UK to champion the NHS’ founding principles of quality and equity globally. Stuart McDonald MP called for the removal of discriminatory barriers that deny marginalised communities access to healthcare. He argued “the goal ofuniversal health coverage will not be realised unless good-quality care is provided without discrimination.” Sharon Hodgson MP emphasised the benefits that UHC can produce. It can “protect countries from epidemics, reduce poverty and the risk of hunger, create jobs — as we know, the NHS is the biggest employer in the country — drive economic growth and enhance gender equality”.

The Minister Steve Brine welcomed their sentiments, declaring: “it is right that we support others who have not yet achieved universal health coverage to do so.” He went on to say, “we are committed to delivering the sustainable development goals…that is crucial to tackling many other health challenges, including the improvement of maternal, newborn and child health and specific diseases such as TB, HIV, malaria and — everyone rightly mentioned this — pneumonia, the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide”.

We were pleased to hear the Minister talk about sustainable financing; “support for UHC must also involve helping countries to achieve sustainable funding mechanisms for their system, whichever they choose” and the need for an across government strategy on health, he assured the MPs that health had to be integrated “my Department, DFID, Public Health England and the Foreign Office in particular take a ‘one HMG’ approach to global health, which was recently praised by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact”.

Despite its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals, the target for universal health care is way off track. The Fifth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research on 8-12th October in Liverpool is a crucial mechanism in influencing and pushing governmental policies on health for all. The symposium is essential in connecting the latest research and evidence with political advocacy.

Next year at the United Nations General Assembly there will be a High-Level Meeting on UHC. This is a moment for the UK to illustrate its leadership and step up to the table with progressive ideas for sustainable financing for health. We look forward to working with the Minister, the newly appointed Health Secretary Matthew Hancock and parliamentarians to ensure that health for all is globally realised.

As the Minister stated “poorer, marginalised populations must achieve better access to good-quality essential services without the risk of financial hardship”.

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