On 7 April, on its 70th anniversary, the World Health Organization celebrates World Health Day by drawing global attention to this year’s theme, “Universal health coverage (UHC): everyone, everywhere”. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 which called for health for all by the year 2000.
Over the past 70 years, there have been major advances in health and health technology, including life-saving medicines for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, hypertension and diabetes. In the African Region, health outcomes have been improved through strategies such as distributing insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, and vaccinating against the human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer.
Access to treatment and essential services has improved. For the first time, more than half of all people living with HIV in Africa (14 million) have access to life-saving HIV treatment. Between 2010 and 2016, new cases of malaria dropped by 20% and there were 37% fewer deaths due to malaria. Moreover, in 2016, the risk of developing pneumonia and meningitis reduced for nearly two thirds of children on the continent because they were vaccinated, compared to only 3% in 2010. In 2012, Africa accounted for over 50% of polio cases globally. The good news is that since August 2016, the Region has not reported a case of wild poliovirus.
However, much more needs to be done to curb the increase in noncommunicable diseases, address new threats such as SARS, H5N1, and tackle epidemics like Ebola and cholera. There is also a need to address the challenge of antimicrobial resistance and substandard and falsified medicines.
Countries must therefore strive to improve health governance and information systems to ensure better regulation, planning and accountability to their communities and partners. Effective leadership and high-level political commitment are critical to achieving UHC. Adequate and sustained investment in health is necessary for ensuring equitable access to health services.
Several countries in the Region, including Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Uganda, have demonstrated that removing user fees systematically increases utilization rates of health services. Rwanda’s health insurance scheme expanded access to quality health services for poor people from 7% in 2003 to 91% in 2010. Member States should also address the persistent challenge of inadequate health workforce. Ethiopia exemplifies how investment in health workers, and specifically community health workers, contributes to improved delivery of essential health services.
UHC means ensuring that everyone – no matter where they live or who they are – can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship. It is a powerful equalizer that ensures #Health for All, enhances health security, reduces poverty and promotes gender equality.
WHO in the African Region is committed to supporting Member States to achieve UHC. We have developed a framework of actions to assist countries in selecting their own path towards achieving both UHC and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have also developed a flagship programme geared towards providing integrated and holistic support to countries through implementation support, a regional learning programme for UHC and more.
Today, I call on African leaders to live up to the SDG pledges they made in 2015, and to commit to concrete actions. WHO will continue to support countries to build stronger, more resilient and responsive health systems through UHC to advance #Health for All.