This blog post is part of a wider HSG blog series in the lead up to the Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017, which takes place in Tokyo, Japan from 12 – 15 December. In this series, HSG members provide their perspectives on how Health Policy and Systems Research is fundamental to achieving Universal Health Coverage by 2030.
By Dr M Aslam
Poverty is major global issue. According to World Bank statistics in 2013, 10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day. At present, millions of people in the world are deprived of basic amenities. One of the greatest challenges to countries across the world – especially low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – is how to cope with large-scale health challenges and how to ensure the availability of health care services to the masses.
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is based on the WHO constitution of 1948 and on the Health for All agenda set by the Alma Ata declaration in 1978, which identifies health as a fundamental human right. UHC is about ensuring that people have access to quality essential health care services, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines, without suffering financial hardship as a result.
All UN Member States are aiming to achieve UHC by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, Pakistan is lagging behind in the health sector. According to the World Bank, total health expenditure accounted for only 2.6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which was much less than other LMICs. Whilst it is expected that high income countries will raise their fund allocation to meet the ever-growing, health-related needs of the population, these countries also need to ensure that the marginalized sections of society who suffer ill-health due to the effects of poverty are central to their approach. LMICs should also increase their efforts and do what is required to achieve UHC.
The following strategies may help them achieve the target:
- They should design and establish a huge health infrastructure that may accelerate progress towards UHC.
- These countries should allocate considerable funds and subsidies from national income reserves and devise strong monitoring and assessment system which can ensure a progressive expansion of coverage of health services and financial protection.
- Millions of people are the trapped in the vicious circle of destitute poverty and are living hand-to-mouth. Financial constraints may prevent these people from accessing health services. Introducing the National Health Card System (NHCS) to serve the disadvantaged strata will ensure equitable distribution of health services.
- Another effective way could be to take on board private health organizations and hospitals and to also strengthen the public health sector by providing training to health workers, investing in health technology and equipment, supplying of medicine and developing more and more health information and research centers.
- Finally, an Outreach National Health Program (ONHP) could target the most hard-to-reach people by establishing mobile health centers in order to ensure these people have access to health services.
Whilst the challenge of meeting the targets of UHCs sizeable, this level of progress can bring hope for better health and protection for the world’s poorest and marginalized people and is therefore crucial to ensuring that good health care and services are available to all.