Will Africa achieve universal health coverage?
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire recently in Victoria Falls One of the issues that dominated deliberations at the just ended 67th World Health Organisation Regional Committee for Africa in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from 28-1 September was the need for African countries to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The issue of UHC came under the background of the fact that millions of people across the globe currently have no access to life-saving health services or are wallowing in poverty because of exorbitant fees that they are forced to pay to sustain their health. Women, children and adolescents who have high needs for health care but least access to financial resources suffer much of the burden of not accessing health care.
It is the realisation of this that health ministers from 47 countries on the continent who met at the WHO Regional Committee adopted a range of actions intended to strengthen health systems in their countries that will eventually lead to universal health coverage. Universal health coverage entails that individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardships.
It enables everyone the services that address the most important causes of diseases and death, and ensuring that the services are of sufficient quality and effective. The need to achieve universal health coverage was highlighted by President Mugabe during his keynote address at the summit. President Mugabe told the delegates that direct financing of health by governments was key in achieving universal health coverage.
“Our governments are committed to investing at least 15 percent of their national budgets into health. Few have managed consistently to meet this commitment in the context of many competing priorities. Financing for health, thus, remains challenged. We need to further innovate around how we finance health, and how we efficiently and sustainably invest such financing,” said President Mugabe.
Indeed, as acknowledged by President Mugabe, universal health coverage is the eighth target under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted in September 2015 by the UN General Assembly to guide global development by 2030. Thus, member states at the 67th WHO Africa Summit were advised to build strong and resilient health systems that can ensure public health security, deal with effects of climate change and are capable of ending deadly epidemics such as the Ebola disease.
WHO director of the Health System and Services Cluster at the Regional Office for Africa Dr Delanyo Dovlo said there was need for good health stewardship, adequate financing, qualified and motivated health workforce, access to quality medicines and health products, functional health information systems and people-centred service delivery systems in order to achieve universal health coverage.
“UHC is the foundation for healthier communities, stronger economies and our collective security. It calls for renewed commitment and concrete actions to ensure that national health systems in the region are well funded and aligned with the changing needs and expectations.
This will ensure that health is playing its role in facilitating the attainment of sustainable development,” said Dr Dovlo. During deliberations, the ministers agreed to implement the six comprehensive framework actions in their countries that will contribute fundamentally to attainment of UHC. These include improving availability of essential services needed to sustain health for all people and to increase their coverage so that all people can easily access them.
The ministers agreed to make renewed efforts to protect people from catastrophic health expenditures caused by use of health services and focus on promoting client satisfaction and effective health Will Africa achieve universal health coverage? security It was noted that Africa was experiencing demographic, economic, social, security and environmental changes that place unique and varied demands on health. The ministers highlighted the need for engagement with other sectors that have significant influence on health outcomes.
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health and Child Care Dr David Parirenyatwa told delegates that there was need for all in the health sector to recognise the complexity brought about by population changes that have resulted in high numbers of both young and elderly people with unique health needs. He said the alignment of health systems with changing needs would require good quality human resources, effective governance, and improved organization and management of health services.
Despite the challenges, the ministers acknowledged the substantial improvements in health outcomes achieved over the last 25 years on the continent. Improvements were also noted in the overall financing for health which may have contributed to a reduction in out-of-pocket expenditures.