The world can expect a lot more concreate and significant results in the next three to five years from member countries of the United Nations working to achieve Health for all by 2030 also known as Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Listening to reports of the outcome of the 2017 Universal Health Coverage Forum in Tokyo Japan where several world leaders recently converged to discuss the topic, there is so much expectation for improving health coverage across countries.
From all indications, the UHC 2017 Form was not only successful, but it also ended on a high note with the Prime Minister of the host nation Japan announcing a 2.9 billion USD package to developing countries in support global efforts toward UHC goal by 2030.
UHC is essential part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 3 includes a target to “achieve universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”. According to the World Health Organization “Right now, at best only half of the world’s population has coverage for essential health services, whiles hundreds of millions of people cannot access the health services they need to stay healthy,”
The UHC Forum 2017 according to reports was a big world platform where countries and international bodies who have subscribed to the global health agenda met to assess strategies, examine evidence and global innovations for making health care practically accessible and affordable to every person on earth irrespective of whom they are or where they live.
U.N Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe attended the conference. Among other world leaders who participated in the conference were WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Senegalese President Macky Sall and Myanmar President Htin Kyaw.
Ghana was represented at the forum by a delegation led by the Director General of the Ghana Health Service Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare. The other were the Director of Policy Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the Ghana Health Service Dr. Koku Awoonor, the CEO of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Dr. Samuel Annor and Deputy CEO NHIA Dr. Lydia Dsane-Selby, and Hon. Robert Baba Kuganab-Lem a Member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health. The conference was also attended by some representatives of Development Partners in Ghana, CSOs and JICA.
As one of the focused countries in Africa, Ghana made an impressive representation of the country’s national effort and progress towards UHC by taking the stage to share with the rest of the world the gains and potentials of its primary health care strategy and national health care financing mechanisms. With our kind of a “twin-engine powered” public health system that addresses both access and economic limitations to health care, Ghana’s story is one that inspires hope across the world. If we want to design and deliver health care services suitable to the needs of the world’s population including the poorest and most deprived, then systems similar to Ghana’s Community-based Health Planning and Service (CHPS) program that recognizes and embraces community members as key partners in the planning, development and management of health care delivery are exemplary. The introduction of a National Health Insurance Program in Ghana in particular was viewed by many experts as a great step that put Ghana on the right pedestal to make a good run for UHC far early than the U.N 2030 deadline.
Knowing the system weakness of the Ghanaian public health program however, it is important to note that only bold commitments from international development partners as demonstrated by the government of Japan at the UHC Forum 2017 leads one to consider that developing countries can make it possible for 1 billion more people to be able to receive basic health services by 2023.
This expectation is certainly huge given the current situation with progress in many developing countries where some 800 million people still spend more than 10% of their household budget on health care (World Bank/WHO, 2017). But considering that global health funders are repositioning aid for health in favor of health system strengthening and resilience, it is imperative to see the opportunity for low and middle income countries to transform their health systems.
The Director General of the Ghana Service Dr. Nsiah-Asare who has firm positive views and speaks confidently of Ghana’s potential for achieving UHC supports this view of health system strengthening. For Dr. Nsiah-Asare, a country like Ghana who has spent a lot of resources on research and development to build a resilient community-based health system only requires assistance to strengthen its health systems to be able to maximize the full potentials of the CHPS program.
He says Ghana has accepted the global challenge to make health system strengthening its biggest focus. Alongside that, Dr. Nsiah-Asare since taking office as Director General in 2017 has prioritized the adoption and application of Information and Communication Technology to improve quality data gathering and utilization, referrals and emergency preparedness and response, decision-making and planning as well as transformation in resource management and financial tracking.
A declaration out doored at the end of the conference notes that “the organizers have reaffirmed our commitment to accelerating the progress towards UHC and to achieving health for all”. The statement furthers indicates that the group recognizes health as a human right hence their strong believe in the importance of the target 3.8 of the SDGs.
Fundamentally, UHC operates on the principle of leaving no one behind in health, and this the group says will continue to guide and direct the design and delivery of health care services in members countries in line with the voices and needs of some of the world poorest populations.
The forum acknowledged the commitment of similar global voices such as the G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health, the declaration of Sixth Tokyo Conference for Africa Development (TICAD VI), the G20 Berlin Declaration as well as other regional and international declarations. And further called for strengthening global momentum towards UHC, accelerating country-led progress towards UHC and emphasizes the role of innovation for UHC.