Around the world, there is a clarion call for universal health coverage (UHC) to help protect the most vulnerable from being pushed into or kept in poverty because of the cost of accessing basic health services. The World Bank Group and the World Health Organization co-sponsored “Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030,”  to shine a spotlight on UHC during the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings held in Washington DC, April 8-13, 2014.

Panelists at World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings - Towards Universal Health Coverage by 2030
With just 629 days to go until the MDGs deadline, panelists including the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, former World Bank Managing Director and current Minister of Finance for Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo-Ikweala, and other high-level practitioners, policymakers and key players in government and international development, exchanged rich perspectives on UHC:
  • Securing equitable access to essential services
  • Strengthening domestic and international resource mobilization
  • To 2015 and beyond: targets to track performance
  • Investing in health: toward universal coverage and ending poverty by 2030

Read five takeaways from the half-day event.

1. Investment in healthcare brings great returns.
The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health has shown that with the right investments in health today, developing countries will “see dramatic health and economic improvements” by 2035. Panelists who took the stage echoed this finding.

American economist, Lawrence Summers, pointed out the facts and figures about the value of investing in health. “Our estimates show that in low-income countries, the payoff from this investment … is 20 to 1 ... and 9 to 1 in middle-income countries,” Summers said.

Also, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, reinforced that health investments are essential if the world is to succeed in closing the gap between the rich and the poor by 2035.

2. Results-based financing (RBF) is helping accelerate progress toward UHC.
Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway, a founding donor to the Health Results Innovation Trust Fund (HRITF), identified RBF as an effective tool, which has helped change the dynamic of healthcare delivery around the world.

“[RBF] has given an impressive yield. The yield of investing in this fund in the Bank gives four ODA credits per dollar invested,” said Brende. He also noted that Norway was committed to continuing its investment in RBF and encouraging others to do the same.
Brende highlighted several benefits of RBF, including partnerships with developing countries, which allow governments to invest in their own people throughout the RBF approach.
The Minister also mentioned the critical need to get healthcare to the people who need it most and the role RBF can play to help achieve that objective.
“We want children and marginalized groups and women to get decent healthcare to eradicate all poverty—extreme poverty—by 2030,” he said.

3. Health equity for ALL matters.
Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, opened the event with a sobering fact: the inequity in health that exists now is the worst it has been in 50 years.

President of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim also addressed the issue of equity, encouraging the global community to build on the progress made to set goals that are universal and based on the principle of health equity. Read what he said.
The high-level focus on equity was also evident, as Ban Ki-moon issued a call for equitable access to health services. “Today we can celebrate the fact that virtually all mothers in Sweden survive childbirth,” he said. “But we cannot forget that in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see her baby. Addressing this inequality is a matter of health and human rights.”

4. Public financing and political will are essential in the global effort toward UHC.
As ministers of government from around the world and donors addressed the audience, one thing was clear: public financing and political will are vital to sustainable health reforms.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance noted that there is “no free lunch” with GAVI. Countries have to contribute to the cost of the vaccines they get under the organization’s programs.
Myanmar Minister of Health, Pe Thet Khin, shared how his government is investing more in health to deliver UHC to citizens by 2030. That country recently received a World Bank Group investment of $2 billion to help support the national initiative.
In addition, representatives from governments including Cote d’Ivoire, Peru, Sierra Leone, Thailand, and Nigeria highlighted their success stories and/or efforts to achieve UHC through government financing and national health reforms.
5. MDGs 4 and 5 are critical to achieving UHC.
A focus on MDGs 4 and 5 was evident as the panels got underway.
Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children USA, singled out the reduction of the neonatal mortality rate as central to achieving UHC.
“Universal health coverage and newborn survival are two things that have to happen together,” she said, noting that globally one-million newborns die on the day that they are born, and 2.5 million die during the first month of their lives.
Miatta Kargbo, Minister of Health, Sierra Leone, shed light on her country’s ongoing reforms, including free healthcare for lactating mothers, children under five years old, and pregnant women.
The audience learned about Sierra Leone’s commitment to improving healthcare for vulnerable groups in order to realize UHC and strengthening its maternal and child health indicators.
Missed the event? Watch it here.
Read Jim Kim’s remarks.
Plus, check out a fact-filled infographic on Universal Health Coverage from World Bank Health.


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