They say UHC is fantasy. Save the Children and GSK say not

Joint blog from Simon Wright, Head of Child Survival at Save the Children and Jon Pender, Vice-President IP and Access, GSK

Can every child receive the healthcare they need – regardless of where they live? Some people might think this is a fantasy, but we don’t agree.

In 2013, Save the Children and GSK embarked on an ambitious five-year partnership to help save the lives of children living in some of the world’s poorest countries. Our efforts include developing child-friendly medicines; health worker training; and supporting programmes in Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo that seek to improve care for mothers and their children.

But we also know that, if the world is going to put a stop to children dying before their fifth birthday, we need essential health services that reach everyone, not just the lucky few. This is why we support the concept of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). In essence, UHC means governments arranging their health services so that all people can access essential services without falling into financial hardship.  It means governments providing health services fairly based on need and coming up with sustainable ways of financing healthcare so that ,ideally, it is free at the point of use. It also means other sectors thinking hard about how they can support and enable this.

This might seem logical to most people but there are people out there who dismiss UHC as a Utopian fantasy. We don’t agree and our video shows a country which is proving it. Rwanda has achieved 98% coverage of essential immunisations in 2010. It has reduced inequality in access to skilled birth attendance and, although it still has far to go, 64% of the poorest women now have a trained health worker with them when they give birth. Much of this has been achieved by national mandatory contributions, making a public commitment that everyone should have essential services and focusing on the most essential primary care services first.

UHC is realistic

UHC is being hotly debated in the discussions about the Sustainable Development Goals that will be agreed in September. We believe that we need to move from talking only about interventions to engage with the reason that health services are restricted. Not only could this help people access the care they and their families need. But it could also help communities to thrive and prosper.

No-one thinks that every country is able to afford every service, medicine and vaccine.  All countries, rich ones included, make decisions based on need, evidence, cost-effectiveness and available resources. Nor is UHC an instant prospect in every country; some will progress slower than others. However we know that all countries can do a lot more to get essential primary care for their whole population by adopting the principles of UHC. And that all of us – donors, NGOs and businesses – have a part to play in supporting this.

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