Universal Health Coverage ripe for leadership
The subject of Universal Health Coverage was the resounding theme of the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, where Dr. Margaret Chan opened the WHA with a historic statement - “Universal health coverage (UHC) is the single most powerful concept that public health has to offer, and is the umbrella concept that demands solutions to the biggest problems facing health systems. [It will be] the anchor for WHO." Close to ninety countries briefed the Assembly on their efforts to move toward UHC. One seasoned and respected delegate from Thailand, Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert commented “in my fourteen years of attending the World Health Assembly, no other topic has captivated an Assembly such as UHC did during 2012.” It is safe to say that we are witnessing a global movement toward UHC.
During the Assembly, several key meetings brought together governments, non-profits and philanthropy in an unprecedented show of unity around UHC. The World Health Organization, The Rockefeller Foundation, and twelve countries (Bangladesh, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mauritania, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, and the USA) convened a planning meeting to consider global progress on UHC and efforts to place UHC at the top of the international development agenda. At the same time, a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) issued a Call to Action on UHC. Roughly one week after the call, more than thirty organizations had responded. Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and The African Development Bank (AfDB) - all cooperating in the Providing for Health (P4H) initiative – met to discuss financing for universal health coverage. Finally, the Mexican government convened a meeting to highlight the April International Forum on UHC in Mexico City.
Moving forward, there will be increased opportunity to continue the conversation at the July 2012 People’s Health Movement’s People’s Health Assembly in Cape Town, through the Lancet Special Series on Universal Health Coverage in September 2012 and the Second Symposium on Health Systems Research in Beijing.
From all of these activities, events and speeches, two main points are most noteworthy. First, the UHC agenda is ripe for leadership. Secondly, while UHC efforts previously focused on financing, the issue is now becoming a term for health systems strengthening that is understood and has appeal far beyond the health sector.