On December 12, advocates around the world are coming together to mark UHC Day, calling for equitable health systems that leave no one behind. Universal Health Coverage, or UHC, has long been a goal at The Rockefeller Foundation – we helped establish the first UHC Day in 2014, and are more committed than ever to guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health services for all.
This year’s UHC Day theme, Protect Everyone, is a timely reminder of how urgently important health equity is. Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequities in our health care systems – inequities that have always existed but have never been in such sharp focus.
Disparities in health persist worldwide: from the United States, where Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color, to India, where informal workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic consequences. It has never been clearer that who you are and where you’re born determines the type of care you receive.
Yet while the pandemic has exacerbated health inequities, recent developments make me optimistic about the way out of this crisis – and the way forward for the future.
The development of several promising Covid-19 vaccines is a triumph for science, and an extraordinary example of what we can accomplish together through innovation and partnership. Early data on the leading candidates indicate that they will work well in all people regardless of race, age, weight, or other determinants of health. We could soon have another critical tool that we can use alongside robust testing and tracing to drive an inclusive recovery from the pandemic.
Beyond vaccines, the pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to reimagine how we deliver health care in a more equitable way. Fortunately, we have evidence of what works: using data to make smart decisions, prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable, and investing in strong, resilient health systems.
Leveraging data and digital tools can help improve inclusive health care access and health outcomes. This is the core insight of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Health program and why we are proud to support organizations like Dimagi and Medic Mobile, who design apps specifically for community health workers, empowering and enabling them to better track their patients’ health. As these tools come online, they are encouraging more consistent care in areas with limited resources.
It is vital that new health technologies be used to protect the most vulnerable. For example, Covid-related lockdowns have disrupted health care for many, but particularly poor and marginalized communities that already faced barriers to accessing health services. That is why in Uganda, we worked with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF to develop a Public Health Data Hub, improving access to timely, reliable data to identify and address gaps in access to essential health services.
The arrival of Covid-19 vaccines underscores the importance of investing in health systems to ensure people can access the care they need when they need it. While initial data show that the vaccines offer strong protection, they will only help us end the pandemic if they reach everyone in need, no matter who they are or where they live. In addition, innovation in delivery will be essential – from apps that track storage temperatures to drones that can deliver supplies to remote areas.
At the end of an extremely challenging year, many of us are asking how we can prevent something like Covid-19 from ever happening again. I was trained as a physician so I know that basic biology dictates that new infectious agents will continually emerge. However, human ingenuity and cooperation must give us the upper hand against these threats.
Ultimately, the way out of the Covid-19 pandemic and into a new era for health is by delivering on the promise of Health for All. I remain hopeful that together we can create a more inclusive, sustainable future where everyone, everywhere can access the care they need.