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“COVID-19 has shown that universal health coverage, strong public health systems and emergency preparedness are essential to communities, to economies, to everyone.”
These are the words of the UN Secretary General as he launched his policy brief on Covid-19 and universal health coverage (UHC) yesterday on 7 October 2020.
We wholeheartedly agree. UHC protects us all.
In September 2019, at the United Nations High-Level Meeting “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World”, world leaders endorsed the most ambitious and comprehensive political declaration on health in history. As we stated in March it is crucial that, faced by COVID-19, leaders remember their UHC commitments.
Around the world, experience of the pandemic reinforces this message. As the UNSG’s policy brief makes clear:
- COVID-19 is harming progress towards UHC. The crisis disproportionately affects vulnerable people, is increasing the burden on women (as health workers, at home and in communities), and is disrupting essential health services for everyone.
- A successful response to the crisis must ensure that everyone, everywhere is covered by proven public health measures and appropriate health care. This includes removing financial barriers by suspending user fees for COVID-19 testing and other essential health services.
- As a foundation for UHC, governments must step up investments in core health systems functions that are fundamental to protecting and promoting health and well-being, including “common goods for health” such as surveillance and risk communication.
Health is a profoundly political choice. To respond to this crisis and build a safer and healthier future, leaders must urgently invest in health systems. It is in their interests to do so: COVID-19 shows that under-investment in health can have a devastating impact on societies and economies. They must also build trust and accountability by widening participation in health governance and decision-making.
As co-chairs of the diverse and lively multi-stakeholder movement for UHC (including governments, parliamentarians, civil society, private sector, international agencies, global health networks and academia), we welcome this policy brief. Global leaders must act now on its recommendations.
From Professor llona Kickbusch Chair, International Advisory Board, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies Geneva and Dr Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO and Director General of AMREF Health Africa Group.