UN makes landmark decision to achieve universal health goals

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group, speaks at the high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage. The theme of the meeting was "Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World".  Image courtesy of WHO
David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group, speaks at the high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage. The theme of the meeting was "Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World". Image courtesy of WHO

Related tags: Health, Nutrition

As world leaders adopt a high-level United Nations (UN) Political Declaration on universal health coverage (UHC) — the most exhaustive body of health commitments ever implemented at this level — we ask Agnes Soucat, a Director in the UHC and LifeCourse Division at World Health Organization (WHO), what this means moving forward.

Following calls from the WHO and partners to double health coverage between now and 2030 or leave up to 5 billion people unable to access health care, the declaration was formed and announced on the 23rd September. 

What does the Global Action Plan include?

Global heads met to discuss the world’s advancement towards universal health coverage (UHC) by investing in four primary health care areas. Commenting on these health care areas,  Agnes Soucat, a Director in the UHC and LifeCourse Division at World Health Organization (WHO), explains that these include: “Robust financing mechanisms to ensure that no one suffers financial hardship because they have to pay for health care out of their own pockets, high-impact interventions, a strong health workforce and strengthened governance and institutional capacity.”

A day later, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), a total of 12 multilateral organizations, including WHO, launched their Global Action Plan for health and well-being for every citizen around the globe.

By providing development assistance and efficient support, the organizations collectively strive to help deliver UHC. They will work together to reach the health-specific targets for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in “accelerating progress towards SDG3”:​ to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, Soucat revealed.

“The plan is called ‘Stronger Collaboration, Better Health’ for a reason,”​ explained Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO. “Although collaboration is the path, impact is the destination. The release of this Plan is the beginning, not the end, of that path.”

“We won’t have a world without hunger unless people can get access to the services that help them get healthier,” ​emphasized David Muldrow Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP). “These goals go together, hand in glove. That’s why the WFP is committed to working with governments and our partners around the world to make more progress toward a healthier, well-fed world.”

Why is a global declaration necessary?

Speaking to Nutraingredients-LATAM, ​Agnes Soucat, a Director in the UHC and LifeCourse Division at WHO, explained that the importance of obtaining a declaration on health goals is threefold:

  1. It reaffirms the political commitment to achieve UHC​: UHC is a political choice. The declaration which was adopted at the UNGA by political leaders from all member states (with the participation of about 50 heads of state and governments) signals their willingness to make this choice.
  2. It makes a strong case for investment in health​: Health for all is an investment in humanity and wellbeing and prosperity for everyone. Good health is both an outcome and a driver of economic and social progress. Access to safe, affordable and good quality health services enables people to be more productive and active contributors to their families and nations. UHC has proven to be a catalyst for economic growth that benefits individuals, families, communities, businesses and economies.  
  3. It sets the vision for achieving universal health coverage by 2030​: The Political Declaration is the most comprehensive agreement ever reached on global health and suggests that robust and resilient primary health care systems will drive progress over the next decade on tackling communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, while addressing non-communicable disease and the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

What will happen now?

Focusing our attention on the immediate actions we can expect to see, Soucat emphasized the findings of the 2019 Global Monitoring Report on UHC, which shows that “half the world's population do not have access to the health care they need and 100 million people every year are driven into poverty through out-of-pocket health spending”.

“If the world continues to increase service coverage at current rates between now and 2030, up to 5 billion people will still lack the services they need. We need to double health coverage between now and 2030,” ​Soucat added.

WHO recommends that each country increases public spending on primary health care by at least 1% of GDP through investment or reallocation of public resources. “More and better investment in primary health care is the answer —  all countries can make progress,”​ Soucat encouraged.

Addressing barriers to UHC

In terms of challenges, “evidence suggests that universal health coverage is technically and financially feasible including for lower-income countries,” ​Soucat comments. “What’s required is the political will.”

The UN declaration aims to help achieve these goals and tackle any political restrictions by providing a “basis for citizens to hold their governments accountable”​, at the country level. From a global perspective, the UN declaration strives to “sustain strong political momentum”​. A mid-term review in 2023 will help maintain high-level attention on reaching UHC goals, Soucat concludes.