Who’s on your guest list? A reason to make sure policymakers are at the table

As co-sponsor and host of the workshop, “Equity in Universal Coverage: How to Reach the Poorest”, in Marrakech, Morocco from September 24-27, 2012, the Moroccan Ministry of Health was clear about the importance of organizing a workshop that acknowledged and linked the political dimension of achieving universal health coverage (UHC), to the discussion and debate on technical achievements and challenges. As RAMED, Morocco’s medical assistance scheme for the poor, moves to rapidly scale-up, ensuring continued government commitment is as critical to the success of the program as getting technical nuts and bolts issues resolved. RAMED needs the support of the Moroccan government to address its challenge of long-term financial sustainability and to continue to elevate affordability and quality in health service delivery as key priorities. A recent Lancet article highlights the clear link between good policies and country health achievements.

In the end, the decision to include senior level policymakers in the participant profile for the workshop was a strategic one, a rare opportunity to bring technical experts and parliamentarians together for a full four days of interactive discussion. Technical experts had listening ears and the active engagement of policymakers who jointly assessed challenges, brainstormed solutions and developed action plans. Policymakers in turn, were able to deepen their understanding and knowledge of important achievements, and the key operational and policy challenges countries face in expanding coverage to the poorest. The rich exchanges and sharing were mutually beneficial, with one delegation noting as they ran past the lunch hour how difficult it was to find opportunities to come together as a group.

On the final day of the workshop, policymakers were given the opportunity to share key elements of the action plans they had jointly developed. Delegates acknowledged the need for improved policy, stronger advocacy, and better resource mobilization efforts for their programs to reach the poorest. Policymakers clearly articulate their country's vision, infused with new technical understanding as a result of their many interactions.

A true testament to the impact of these interactions is the news from Ghana, days after the workshop, that parliamentarian Matthew Prempeh had introduced an amendment to the Ghana National Health Insurance Bil mandating the National Health Insurance Authority to annually report on equity of access within Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme.

The presence of policymakers in Marrakech was critical to building political commitment and consensus around country action plans. The success of the workshop holds much promise for future cross country learning events. Policymakers can help make UHC forms a reality, supporting countries to move from plan to action - it’s hard to imagine a workshop without them.

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