Leveraging universal health coverage is essential for addressing...
On 21 September 2023, 200 stakeholders including Member State representatives at the ministerial level, high-level representatives of UN agencies, and partners from civil society organizations, gathered to celebrate the adoption of the Political Declaration, highlighting what can drive country progress on UHC, including actions that will bring us closer to achieving UHC and SDG targets by 2030.
The event was convened by the Group of Friends of UHC and Global Health, in partnership with UHC2030, WHO, the UHC Partnership, UN Foundation and IFRC. Since the first high-level meeting on UHC in 2019, the Group of Friends for UHC has hosted ministerial-level meetings on the margins of UNGA to sustain political momentum for the UHC movement.
As the event immediately followed the conclusion of the UHC HLM, the intent was to keep programming light, with a few toasts and musical performances for the opening and closing. It featured the Global Scrub Choir, a group of frontline health workers from different countries who came together during the COVID-19 pandemic to lift spirits and connect people through the power of music, and Ricky Kej, three-time Grammy Award-winning Indian music composer and environmentalist performer. Several videos were also projected while participants arrived in the meeting room before opening the event. The reception, which was moderated by Kate Dodson, Vice-President for Global Health at the UN Foundation, also provided an opportunity for participants to connect and strengthened links among the diverse partners of the UHC Movement.
The Ministers from Georgia, Japan and Thailand, whose countries have shown tremendous leadership on UHC in the UN through the Group of Friends, delivered opening statements, showcasing their global efforts to improve the accessibility and affordability of health services.
His Excellency Takemi KEIZO, Japan’s Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, referred to Japan’s continued commitment to lead global efforts towards UHC, as demonstrated during the 2023 G7 Presidency, and called on the international community to redouble efforts in leveraging collaboration between developed and developing countries.
His Excellency Zurab Azarashvili, Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, highlighted the importance of nationally driven action in implementing international commitments such as those included in the UN high-level meeting’s Political Declaration, mentioning how Georgia’s UHC reforms resulted in a significant reduction of out-of-pocket payments and improved health outcomes.
His Excellency Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, representing Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke about the importance of social participation in implementing the UHC Political Declaration, as progress goes hand in hand with listening to populations and understanding their needs and realities. He also reaffirmed the Thai’s government commitment to international cooperation and engagement with partners in pursuit of making progress towards UHC.
The event provided an opportunity for the WHO and the World Bank to share their perspectives on the findings from the UHC Global Monitoring Report 2023 and where we go from there.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director-General of the Universal Health Coverage, Life Course Division at the WHO, spoke on behalf of Dr Tedros, Director-General of the WHO, mentioning how supporting countries to make a radical reorientation of their health systems towards a primary health care approach is a key priority for WHO in order to bring UHC progress back on track. He thanked the European Commission and other donor governments (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg and the UK) committed to help countries implement UHC reforms through the UHC Partnership. He also recognized the contribution of all UHC2030 partners, who play such an important role in sustaining momentum and holding governments accountable.
Mamta Murthi, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, emphasised the alarming findings on financial protection from the new UHC Global Monitoring Report, which shows that financial hardship due to out-of-pocket health spending continues to worsen and undermine efforts to eradicate poverty globally. She mentioned how the experience of countries such as Thailand shows that making progress towards UHC is only possible with an increase in the priority given to health and the introduction of UHC schemes, which reduce out-of-pocket medical payments while increasing the use of services by individuals.
The Ministers from Singapore, Portugal and the UK highlighted the importance of adapting to country contexts and specific determinants of progress.
His Excellency Ong Ye Kung, Minister of Health of Singapore, spoke about the need for investment in preventative care to take into account the impact of demographic changes such as aging on communities.
His Excellency Manuel Pizarro, Minister of Health of Portugal, highlighted his country’s experience in leading to a healthier and more equitable future by adapting health services to the needs of the population.
Honorable Minister Will Quince MP, Minister of State for Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, referred to the UK’s announcement at the UN General Assembly, including new transformational funding to improve health and well-being and boost health security for low-income countries, prepare for future pandemics, and prevent preventable deaths of women, newborns and children, through resilient and inclusive health systems.
Several non-state stakeholders shared their perspectives on the way forward and their contribution to help to scale up and accelerate progress on UHC. They included:
Francesco Rocca, President of the IFRC, who reminded us about putting the safety and dignity of people at the centre of health policies, and beyond, including in humanitarian settings.
Ivy Murugi, Youth Representative of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, who spoke about the contribution of youth to make progress towards UHC, demonstrating the power of putting young people in the lead today to guarantee justice and sustainability for future generations.
Dr. Silvana de Castro, Manager for Quality and Continuing Education in Health, and Psychosocial Care Manager at the Instituto Gnosis of Brazil, who highlighted the importance of prioritizing investment in primary health care, based on her personal experience.
Nupur Nalvani, Founder and Director of Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation, who spoke on behalf of the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for UHC2030, making a strong case for the institutionalization of social participation in health decision making. She referred to communities as being not mere recipients of UHC but the co-architects, with their inclusion, particularly those most affected by health inequities, leading to impactful, meaningful and sustainable UHC.
Sebastian Arias, Global Health Policy Expert of Roche, who spoke on behalf of the UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency, highlighted that all stakeholders have a role to play in supporting the realization of UHC, and reiterated the private sector commitment to achieving UHC, which is outlined in the UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency Statement. The private sector is an engine for innovation that can not only improve health, but also increase health system efficiencies and sustainability.
Ms. Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Co-chair of the UHC2030 Steering Committee, then closed the meeting by thanking all the members of the Group of Friends for their commitment to engage all relevant stakeholders in sustaining the momentum. She also formally announced the theme for this year’s UHC Day campaign on 12 December: Health for All: Time for Action.