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700+ Organizations in 116 Countries Say Universal Health Coverage is Right, Smart, and Overdue

Global leaders urged to ensure all people can access essential health services without facing financial hardship

NEW YORK – On the second annual Universal Health Coverage Day on 12 December 2015, a coalition of more than 700 organizations in 116 countries will come together to say that universal health coverage is right, smart, and overdue. The coalition will urge world leaders to deliver on promises to achieve universal health coverage because health is a human right that reduces poverty, fuels economic growth, and builds resilience to threats from disease outbreaks to climate change.

On Universal Health Coverage Day 2015, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are still waiting for access to lifesaving health services or fall into poverty paying for needed health care. To address these inequities, more than 100 countries across the income spectrum have begun working toward universal health coverage, increasingly demonstrating its feasibility.

“When The Rockefeller Foundation first began its work to advance universal health coverage, it seemed to many to be a pipedream. Today, we are truly inspired to see how rapidly support for universal health coverage has grown, including its recent recognition in the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “Universal health coverage is key to building resilient health systems that make both people and planet healthier in the face the increasingly common shocks and stresses posed by climate change, urbanization, and globalization.”

Universal Health Coverage Day, inaugurated by The Rockefeller Foundation, marks the anniversary of the United Nations’ unanimous 2012 resolution urging governments to ensure universal access to quality health care without financial hardship.

“Universal health coverage is one of the most powerful social equalizers among all policy options,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “The global community has recognized this approach as a pro-poor pillar of sustainable development that builds social cohesion and stability – valued assets for every country.”

“Governments have everything to gain when they prioritize human health – it is an investment. I am hopeful for global progress because universal health coverage has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health, Rwanda.

Progress toward Health for All                                                                                                                     New events and initiatives show growing global momentum to deliver universal health coverage and offer an opportunity to further accelerate progress:

  • High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines: To address serious gaps in access to lifesaving health interventions, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has established a new High-Level Panel tasked with ensuring access to medicines is improved around the world. The panel, which convenes for the first time on 11 and 12 December, demonstrates commitment to improve health access at the highest level of the United Nations.
  • International Conference on Universal Health Coverage in the New Development Era: Next week in Japan, Bill Gates, Margaret Chan, Jim Yong Kim, and other global health leaders will gather for a major conference on the role of universal health coverage in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. Co-hosted by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in conjunction with its replenishment meeting, the conference will examine the critical link between building strong health systems and stopping the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.
  • Sustainable Development Goals: The Sustainable Development Goals officially launch on 1 January 2016, and include achieving universal health coverage among their many targets. Coalition members are urging world leaders to prioritize universal health coverage as a foundational investment that can drive progress on all health objectives and advance the overarching goal of ending extreme poverty.

There is increasing evidence that universal health coverage is a smart investment. Earlier this year, The Rockefeller Foundation convened the Economists’ Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, a landmark statement outlining the economic benefits of universal health coverage and calling on policymakers to prioritize it as an essential pillar of sustainable development. More than 300 economists from 44 countries have added their names to the Declaration, including the current and former World Bank chief economists and five Nobel Laureates.

The WHO and World Bank’s first global monitoring report on universal health coverage released in June 2015 found that despite significant worldwide progress on health, 400 million people still lack access to essential health services and 17% of people in low- and middle-income countries are pushed or further pushed into poverty (US$2/day) because of health spending.

“As the gap between rich and poor keeps growing and part-time jobs become more common, we must strengthen the social safety net,” said Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University and an Economists’ Declaration signatory. “Universal health coverage would give essential protection, and needs to be part of every society.”

New photography series puts a face to the millions still “Waiting for Health,” events around the world highlight urgent need to accelerate progress

Waiting for Health Project

In conjunction with Universal Health Coverage Day, a new photography series has launched to document experiences of waiting for health care around the world. The “Waiting for Health Project,” featuring photographs from 12 noted photographers in 12 countries, puts a face to the hundreds of millions of people who still lack adequate access to health and exposes the vast disparities that remain within and between countries.

Among the stories documented by the photographers in the series are:

  • Martina Bacigalupo (Burundi): A mother anxiously awaits a blood transfusion for her 11-month-old child suffering from cerebral malaria.
  • Aurelie Marrier D’Unienville (Guinea): A woman whose husband recently passed away because he could not afford treatment waits to see a doctor about her own medical condition.
  • Noriko Hayashi (Japan): A young woman cares for her elderly mother, who is among the half a million Japanese seniors waiting for space in a nursing home.
  • Anne-Stine Johnsbråten (Norway): A family of Libyan refugees in Norway waits for mental health services.
  • Radhika Chalasani (USA): American seniors travel across the border to Mexico in search of more affordable health care and medicine.

Events Worldwide to Mark Universal Health Coverage Day

Coalition partners are planning more than 50 events in 30 countries to mark Universal Health Coverage Day and urge national leaders to accelerate reforms toward health for all. Highlights include:

  • Cameroon: Positive-Generation will organize a capacity-building workshop and media campaign about the need for universal health coverage in Cameroon.
  • Chile: Help for the Andes will convene academics, students, health professionals, and members of the public to call attention to policies needed to achieve universal health coverage in Chile.
  • Kenya: The Emerging Leadership Initiative will host an event with doctors, local leaders, and country government officials to help spread awareness about universal health coverage.
  • Nepal: BHORE will organize an advocacy meeting in Kathmandu with government officials, supporting agencies, and civil society organizations to design a programmatic approach to universal health coverage in Nepal.
  • Pakistan: AWAZ CDS will organize an educational event to spotlight ways to hold government leaders accountable for providing health services to marginalized populations.
  • Switzerland: Save the Children, the World Health Organization, and the International Labour Organization will host a panel discussion in Geneva with government leaders, policy experts, and civil society representatives.
  • UK: Partners including RESULTS UK, WaterAid, THET, Health Poverty Action, and Malaria Consortium will host a Parliamentary event in London.
  • USA: The World Health Organization will host a roundtable discussion on universal health coverage in the post-2015 development era at the United Nations in New York.

Media Contacts                                                                                                                                                                 Leah Sandals / Daniel Cohn                                                                                                                                           Global Health Strategies                                                                                                    /                                         +1-646-867-2877 / +1-646-862-1811