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Health for All: The Evolving Story

If you believe that universal health coverage sounds too difficult or expensive to achieve, you are not alone.

But contrary to popular belief, decades of experience in both rich and poor countries have shown that investing in health for everyone, especially the poorest and most marginalized, is achievable and that it pays for itself many times over.

That’s the inspiring message of Health for All: The Evolving Story, a new interactive documentary released today with The Rockefeller Foundation’s support.

The film tells the story of the past, present, and future of the global movement for universal health coverage, and today, on Universal Health Coverage Day, I want to share a few highlights from the film:

“Health for all” is a modern struggle with ancient roots.

You may be surprised to learn that the earliest known record of a plan to provide health coverage for all dates to over 2,300 years ago. Chiseled into a rock in Western India are 14 edicts, including one for public health:

In the centuries that followed, it became clear that declaring the right to health and actually delivering on it are two different things.

Today, many countries have written “health for all” into their constitutions, yet almost half the world’s population still cannot access essential health services. When someone falls sick, where they live and how much money they have are often determining factors in whether they live or die.

We don’t have to accept that paradigm.

The triangle moves the mountain.

How does a country make progress toward providing health coverage to all of its people? While there is no one-size-fits-all path, in almost every case the solution requires three common ingredients: knowledge, demand, and political will.

In Thailand, this winning trio is called “The Triangle That Moves the Mountain.” The Thais are experts on the subject—over the span of just a few decades, the country has made tremendous gains in health by applying knowledge, meeting demand, and building political will:

Thailand is just one country that is investing in health because of the many benefits it brings: Health coverage grows the economy, protects against emergencies and improves the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

We can and must do better by mothers and young children.

The health of mothers and their children is a sentinel indicator of the overall health of a country. While the number of mothers and children dying has dropped significantly in the past few decades, last year, more than five million mothers and children died from preventable causes.

Ending this injustice begins with meeting people where they live. Countries that invest in strong primary health care, including well-trained, well-paid community health workers, are seeing dramatic gains—particularly for women and children:

Earlier this year I wrote about opportunities to use advances in data science to improve health. These innovations can help overcome some of the biggest barriers to universal health coverage, by ensuring that community health systems can deliver the right care to the right people at the right time.

The health for all journey continues, and we need more people to join us.

The story of Health for All is ultimately a story about people fighting to leave no one behind. We know how to keep people healthy, and we have to share those advances equitably.

As the story continues to evolve, we each have a say—and a stake—in where it goes next. So help spread the word and let’s continue to push forward to ensure health for all, everywhere.

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