In the space of nine months, the coronavirus has spread to more than 190 countries and over 30 million people have been infected. Over one million people have lost their lives because of this virus.
Expressing concern over that, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, on Wednesday said that the pandemic has laid bare long-ignored risks such as gaps in social protection and structural inequalities.
“It has also brought home the importance of basic public health, and strong health systems and emergency preparedness, as well as the resilience of a population in the face of a new virus or pandemic, lending ever greater urgency to the quest for universal health coverage (UHC),” Guterres said.
What is universal health coverage?
Universal health coverage means that all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without undue financial hardship. The goal of universal health coverage is threefold:
Equity in access: everyone who needs health services should get them, not only those who can pay for them
Sufficient quality: health services should be good enough to improve the health of those receiving services
No undue financial risk: The cost of using health services should not put people at risk of financial harm.
The idea of UHC is based on the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s constitution of 1948 declaring health a fundamental human right and on the Health for All agenda set by the Alma Ata Declaration in 1978.
The world is now at a critical juncture as after some initial success in controlling the transmission of the coronavirus, many countries are now experiencing a resurgence after easing of norms of lockdown and restrictions.
With the flu season approaching in some countries, many governments are finding themselves in a catch-22 situation, and finding it difficult to strike the right balance between protecting public health and personal liberties and keeping their economies going.
“With universal health coverage in place, countries could more effectively and efficiently address the three ways in which the COVID-19 crisis is directly and indirectly causing morbidity and mortality: the first is due to the virus itself, the second is due to the inability of health systems to provide ongoing essential health services, and the third is linked to its socio-economic impact,” the UN Secretary-General said.
Some Key Highlights Of UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief
- At least half the world’s people do not have access to the health services they need. Some 100 million people are driven into poverty each year by catastrophic healthcare costs.
- This huge gap in health coverage is one reason why COVID-19 has caused so much pain and suffering.
- All countries have agreed to work towards Universal Health Coverage as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- But we cannot wait 10 years. We need Universal Health Coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises.
- That is just one of the five major recommendations in this policy brief.
- The second is to control further transmission of COVID-19 through proven public health measures and a coordinated global response.
- The third recommendation is to protect delivery of other health services during the pandemic. COVID-19 is indirectly killing people with heart disease and cancer, as well as those it infects. And access to mental health services and sexual and reproductive health programmes cannot be compromised.
- Fourth, we need to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to future COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatment. Funding the groundbreaking ACT-Accelerator is the fastest way to end the pandemic.
- And fifth, we must strengthen preparedness. That means involving all sectors of society, and investing in alert systems that trigger action by health authorities.