NEW YORK—On Sunday, May 20th in Geneva, Switzerland, days before the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly, The Rockefeller Foundation funded and co-hosted a planning meeting with France, Mexico, Thailand and the World Health Organization (WHO) on universal health coverage (UHC) and health system reform that lays a path towards a possible groundbreaking UN General Assembly Resolution on UHC. With close to thirty attendants from twelve countries including Bangladesh, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mauritania, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, and the USA and the WHO joining the meeting, participants discussed how countries could reform their health systems, move towards reaching UHC, and cooperate to place UHC at the top of the international development agenda—all a key focus of the Foundation’s Transforming Health Systems initiative.
With an increased emphasis on universal health coverage coming in the wake of the 2010 WHO publication, entitled “Health Systems Financing: The Path to Universal Coverage, participants from Japan, Thailand, Mexico, India, Germany and South Africa and others shared updates on their experience developing, implementing and managing complex public health systems geared towards ensuring equitable access to universal health coverage.
One participant, Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert, a senior advisor within the Thai Ministry of Public Health remarked, “I’ve been coming to the World Assembly for ten years, and never have I seen so many meetings and events on one topic as there are this year on universal health coverage. It’s remarkable.” With uniform agreement among the country participants to push for a UN general assembly resolution on UHC, the WHO Secretariat committed to support the movement and to help scope and develop a road map for its achievement. Additionally, the WHO committed to embed UHC within the post-MDG framework, as well as continuing to work with and align NGOs active in this space.
“We look forward to translating this bold aspiration of universal health coverage into a reality for health systems that impacts lives on the ground,” said Dr. Jeanette Vega, The Rockefeller Foundation’s newly appointed Managing Director for health.
Universal health coverage, as defined by the WHO, is “the situation where all people can use the critical health services they need without the fear of impoverishment because they have to pay on the spot.” While health financing is one important component, it was not the only component discussed in the planning meeting. Universal health coverage also requires a situation in which all needed health services are available and are good quality; that the health workers needed are accessible to patients, well-trained and able to do their jobs; that the medicines and equipment needed are available, affordable and distributed appropriately.
Therefore to focus on Universal Health Coverage, multiple countries in attendance emphasized a multisectoral approach. This requires active consideration of broad financial considerations, economic constraints as well as political and social determinants. However, this approach also has the potential to increase economic growth, improve educational opportunities, reduce impoverishment and other inequalities, and foster social cohesion. Sunday’s groundbreaking planning meeting showed that this inclusive and umbrella approach to health systems and interventions is garnering increased success and increased attention in the global health sector.