Universal health coverage: time for an ambitious call for equity in health

By Winnie Byanyima, executive director at Oxfam International on the Oxfam blog

“In the global survey World We Want 2015, health was the first priority of people living in poor countries. This was not surprising. Every year in Africa, nearly a quarter of a million children under five die because their parents cannot afford to pay for treatment. According to the World Health Organization, 150 million people face catastrophic healthcare costs every year, while 100 million are pushed into poverty because of direct payments. Increasingly, poor people are protesting the denial of their basic right to access healthcare when they need it.

The situation can afford no band-aid, but needs transformative solutions. It is time for universal health coverage.

Universal health coverage: a simple and unifying concept

Some people argue that the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) concept is not easily understood or defined. In fact, it is very simple. At its core UHC is about ensuring the right to health. It means that all people – whether rich or poor – are able to access good quality health services without fear of falling into poverty. No one should live in daily fear of falling ill because they cannot afford the healthcare to survive. As President Kim said last week, there’s now overwhelming evidence that health user fees actually worsened health outcomes – and we cannot agree more with him.

There is also now overwhelming evidence that more public budget dedicated to healthcare is a key investment. Twenty years ago, in its major World Development Report on ‘Investing in Health’, the World Bank showed that health expenditures are an investment in economic prosperity. The Lancet report ‘Global Health 2035’ launched a few months ago went one step further in gathering evidence of the impact on economic growth of investing in health.

That UHC is needed is self-evident.  Now we need an ambitious plan to get there.”

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