The Road towards Universal Health Care

Universal healthcare is United Nation’s sustainable goal number 3 and it seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Great strides have been made in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. According to the United Nations’ statistics, since 1990, there has been an over 50 percent decline in preventable child deaths globally. Maternal mortality also fell by 45 percent worldwide. New HIV infections fell by 30 percent between 2000 and 2013, and over 6.2 million lives were saved from malaria.

World health day, celebrated every year on 7th April, is a global health awareness day. This year marked World Health Organization’s 70th anniversary and the 2018 world health day focused on universal health coverage. According to WHO, universal health coverage means that all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.

In most countries, universal health care is achieved through mixed model of funding.  General taxes usually form the primary source of funding but are supplemented by specific levies for services beyond those covered by the public system. It has been observed that 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budget on health care and 6 percent of people in low-and-middle income countries are tipped into or pushed further into extreme poverty because of health spending. A World Bank report tracking progress being made towards universal health coverage presented the global and regional situation using eight-core tracer health coverage indicators. The report found that in 2013, doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP3)-containing vaccination reached 84% of one-year-olds. While on the reproductive and maternal health front, coverage was approaching 80%, with 73% of live births taking place in the presence of a skilled birth attendant and roughly the same proportion of women reporting that their demands for family planning is met by modern methods.

However, according to the report, substantial coverage gaps remain. For example, in spite of significant improvements in the coverage rates for antiretroviral therapy (ART), only 37% of people living with HIV receive ART treatment. For TB only 55% of new TB cases that were reported received diagnosis and successful treatment. Access to sanitation is also a major concern, with 36% of the world’s population, or nearly 2.5 billion people, lacking access to improved sanitation facilities, putting them at risk of several diseases including dysentery, cholera, and typhoid.

Several challenges have been identified when it comes to monitoring and tracking progress towards universal health coverage. One of the challenges faced is measuring effective coverage. Effective coverage not only includes whether people are receiving the services they need but also measuring the ultimate impact of health and the quality of services people receive. Another challenge is obtaining reliable data on an extensive set of health services coverage and financial protection pointers. Reliable data is critical since measuring performance relies on it. Finally, disaggregating collected data in order to uncover coverage inequities is another challenge. Exposing coverage inequities will go a long way in ensuring more efficient and impactful ways of attaining universal health coverage are implemented.

Health is a human right and according to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), every human has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health which includes access to all medical services, sanitation, adequate food, decent housing, healthy working conditions, and a clean environment.


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