Regional Council Calls for Universal Health Insurance
(The New Times) - The East African Community (EAC) is pushing for a social health protection programme across all member states, as way to improve universal access to health services.
Ambassador Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General for the EAC, said yesterday that there was urgent need for regional collaboration on the harmonisation of social health protection mechanisms as the region targets to become a middle income economy.
Sezibera said this at the opening of a three-day regional conference on social health protection in the regional bloc, which started in Kigali.
The conference will consider various approaches to providing universal health coverage in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.
Universal coverage is the subject of a new study that reviewed health systems in 12 African and Asian countries.
"More countries are looking for ways to develop financing systems so all people have equitable and affordable access to health services. As international evidence shows, each country can take immediate steps towards universal coverage regardless its level of economic development with the right policy decisions," Sezibera explained in a pre-recorded speech.
He added that for a region that aims at becoming a middle class bloc in a few years to come, it was inevitable to have an efficient healthcare service for all people to sustain the growth momentum.
The World Health Organization's coordinator of health financing policy, Joe Kutzin, said universal health coverage is more of a "direction than a destination."
"What it means; you want to move towards universal coverage, which means you want to improve access. You want to improve financial protection and you want to improve quality. And in that sense, those are goals for every country in the world", he told the over 200 participants.
Kutzin also alluded to the fact that African countries have not fulfilled the "Abuja Declaration, "allocating fifteen per cent for their annual budgets to the health sector.
He added that some finance ministries are sceptical about disbursing such money because health ministries have not given full accountability of the funds.
This was, however, disputed by Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, who said that all governments are capable of doing what Rwanda has done by giving priority to the health sector.
It allocates 16 percent of its national budget to the health sector.
"We all sit on one cabinet and there is no reason why finance cannot work with health in prioritizing these needs," she explained.
"It is about understanding and aligning the goals for our health ministries and development partners. It is about developing an agenda for harmonization of social health protection mechanisms across the East African Community".
She said that there are people in EAC member states who suffer from illness and cannot pay for important medicines and those who experience prohibitive transportation costs to reach a clinic.
"These problems are not unique to developing countries: they are key concerns across every nation and it is up to us to make our best effort to find solutions. After all, healthcare is an area that touches all of us: No matter if we live in Brussels or Arusha, no matter if we are the prime minister or a rural farmer, we all share the same basic need for healthcare and the basic right to healthcare," she said.
"As a doctor myself, I've seen hundreds of medical cases: some uplifting but many devastating. With strong social health protection mechanisms in place, we can reduce the number of devastating cases, and eradicate the number of cases which leave the patient, the family, the community and the country in financial ruin.", she added
In the region, Rwanda is the only country that has managed to implement the health insurance scheme.
Locally known as Mutuelle de Sante, the Rwandan communal insurance scheme has received global acclaim, with over 90 percent of the population subscribed.