Universal Health Coverage: a call to action ahead of the High-Level Meeting

2-month-old Cynthia is winning her fight against pneumonia at Lodwar hospital, Kenya

The 72nd World Health Assembly kicks off today, and I’ve just touched down in Geneva for what promises to be an exciting week for global health.

This year’s agenda opens the door to several important topics and hot issues. Issues like affordability and transparency of pharmaceuticalsPrimary Health Care, and guaranteeing women and girl’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

2019 is a crucial year for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). And the WHA is a key moment ahead of the first-ever High-Level Meeting (HLM) on UHC in New York on September 23rd. You only need to look at the list of official and unofficial WHA side events to see how central UHC is to this year’s agenda.

#HealthForAll must become a reality

UHC and people’s right to health should be at the centre of all health systems. Governments have the responsibility to fulfil this right and have committed to doing so through the SDGs. While many countries are making great progress on UHC, half the world’s population still lack access to essential health services, while an increasing number of people are facing catastrophic health bills. Our projections show that in 2030, 1.2 billion people will spend at least 10% of their household budget on healthcare and 282 million will spend 25%.

We must make UHC a reality. While UHC is ambitious, it is affordable! Governments need to increase domestic health expenditure to at least 5% of GDP, raising revenue equitably through progressive taxation and removing out-of-pocket payments (see Key Asks for the HLM from the UHC Movement). They must prioritise primary healthcare as the first step towards UHC, making sure the most deprived and marginalised have access to health and nutrition services. Donors and development partners must make sure their aid is transformative, in line with national UHC plans, priorities and domestic resource mobilisation.

Making 2019 count for UHC

With the HLM in September, this is a critical year to galvanise political will towards UHC. To make the HLM a transformational moment needs high-level participation and bold action from governments – including national UHC action plans that can be used to hold them to account by national civil society. Governments must also endorse a strong Political Declaration (including the UHC HLM WHA resolution ahead of that) that includes commitments on increasing domestic public investment, making sure services are free at the point of use, prioritising equitable primary healthcare (including nutrition) and strong accountability, including through meaningful civil society participation.

Building political momentum at #WHA72

Leading up to the HLM, the WHA must help build political momentum for strong action. Save the Children is launching a new UHC Accountability Index to call for action and accountability on UHC. Together with partners, we are also hosting an official side event on Tuesday 21st May on Action and Accountability on UHC to amplify the voices of communities and civil society who are determined to achieve health for all. This complements national consultations taking place with mobilise community-based groups, CSOs, governments and other key stakeholders to make sure their needs and voices are collected and used to shape the global community and CSO demands for improved action, accountability and resourcing for achieving UHC.

We are determined to make Universal Health Coverage happen. The ambition is clear. We are a third of the way through the SDGs – and with the decision made to prioritise a high-level meeting dedicated to UHC this year – now is the time to act. Let’s make 2019 count!

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