How can global communities contribute to the achievement of Universal Health Coverage?
Highlights from Viroj Tangcharoensathien’s keynote address at an international consultative meeting organised by the International Health Partnership (IHP+). Nearly 100 experts and policy makers from countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland for the UHC 2030 Multi-stakeholder Consultation: Building a Partnership to Sustain Health Systems. The meeting brought together low- and middle-income country representatives, civil society organisations, and donors.
Viroj Tangcharoensathien, senior advisor to The International Health Policy Program (IHPP) in the Ministry of Health in Thailand has been instrumental to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Thailand. He also supports implementation of UHC in a number of other countries. His video presentation addresses key questions about how countries can achieve UHC and the role of global communities in supporting UHC through committing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Why is UHC so important?
The goal of Universal Health Coverage is to ensure that all people have access to the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.
“UHC is the main driver to achieve the health related SDG…UHC’s ethical imperative and universal principles endorse the SDG value of leaving no one behind.”
The Millienium Development Goals (MDGs) provided some clear learning and action points to inform the SDGs. In countries that were not reaching the MDGs, health services were not always available and hard to access, particularly by the poor, who were unable to pay. However, it was easier to achieve the health MDG when services were widely available, accessible, high quality and responsive to users. These correlate with the conditions required for reaching Universal Health Coverage.
How to achieve UHC?
Through its efforts over the past 40 years, Thailand is widely regarded as having achieved Universal Health Coverage. During this process there were many key transformations, which are recommended for countries working towards UHC.
- Investment in the health sector and ensuring geographical coverage of district health systems.
- A committed health workforce: Mandatory work in public health services by all medical and nurse graduates – later extended to pharmacists and dentists. Focus on local recruitment and training and hometown placement of graduates to ensure retention, with both financial and non-financial incentives for health workers.
- Maintained focus on improving the quality of services
- Strategic purchasing of health services, which has contributed to efficiency, equity and access of health services.
The role of WHO and international development partners
“The World Health Organization and international development partners must empower countries to be able to set the UHC political agenda, policy formulation, policy implementation and to monitor outcomes.”
Organisations such as WHO should support cross-country learning and sharing, which better takes into account the complexity of political, socio-economic and cultural contexts, and refrain from using expensive international consultants who are otherwise removed from the settings and offer generic, unhelpful advice.
“It is a legitimate and an ethical responsibility of governments to commit to UHC for their fellow citizens. If government are not committed, why should a country have a government?”