25 May 2023

This event took place on 23 May 2023.

Photo collage of speakers

Organizers: UHC2030, IFRC
Co-hosts: Georgia, Germany, Japan, The Slovak Republic and Thailand

With the upcoming United Nations High-Level Meetings (UN HLMs) on universal health coverage (UHC), tuberculosis (TB), and pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR), taking place during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2023, countries and all stakeholders have a unique opportunity to reinvigorate progress towards delivering health for all and work together coherently.

The side event From commitment to action: How the UN high-level meeting is key to delivering health for all provided an opportunity to convene Member States and other stakeholders to show how countries championing UHC can lead by example in securing successful outcomes at the UN HLMs by promoting coherent, integrated and action-oriented pathways to global health.

Referencing the UHC Action Agenda, speakers called for bold actionable commitments on UHC and emphasized the need for resilient and equitable health systems based on primary health care. They collectively framed health as the foundational human right, highlighting the need for adequate financing and acknowledging the critical role of frontline health workers. With UHC high on the political agenda, speakers also focused on how we can use the momentum to accelerate action towards UHC and achieve UHC commitments by 2030. They further highlighted the importance of collaboration, acknowledging that there is only one health system, made up of a collaborative effort of private and public sectors and civil society. Country representatives also spoke about next steps and how we can get ready to make the best of the high-level meetings and beyond.

Key messages

Moderator: Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global Chief Executive Officer, Amref Africa, emphasized the role of health as the foundational human right that allows us to exercise all other human rights. “Because without health, children can’t learn, and without health adults can’t earn. And therefore, when you don’t have health, you cannot enjoy the other rights that are actually stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: education, shelter, even civil and political participation. If you’re not healthy, you can’t participate.” With seven years to go before 2030, he asked participants to take this opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved so far and where we need to go to attain meaningful outcomes by 2030.

Xavier Castellanos, Under Secretary General, National Society Development and Operations Coordination, IFRC, provided welcoming remarks, underscoring the critical role of UHC for health equity and access for all. Acknowledging that millions around the world still lack access to essential health services, he reminded participants that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that every individual, regardless of background or circumstances, has access to quality health care. He also highlighted the need to focus on marginalized and at-risk communities, calling for collective action and renewed commitment to health equity and access for all. “Governments, civil society organizations, private sector and individuals must come together, united by the common purpose of leaving no one behind.”

HE Katharina Stasch, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Geneva, spoke about how we can take advantage of this moment to make sure that UHC is seen as a foundation for the achievement of a safer world. She called for close coordination, coherence and complementarity among UHC processes, highlighting the need to identify cross-cutting narratives, linkages and commitments, and to translate them into action. Reminding participants that UHC is achieved through resilient, strong, sustainable and equitable health systems, she stated that “without [universal health coverage] there is no efficient or effective pandemic prevention, preparedness and response and no lasting end to tuberculosis, to name just a few.” She also emphasized the importance of ensuring access to primary health care as an essential first concrete step towards UHC. She applauded the development of the Action Agenda, which calls for gender-responsive health systems and for a shift from commitment to action, reiterating that “actions must follow words.”

HE Kozo Honsei, Japan’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Geneva, spoke about the G7 meetings of health ministers and financial health ministers hosted by Japan, which served as an opportunity to promote UHC and engage in important discussions with various stakeholders, in particular about the UHC Action Agenda. He highlighted the importance of focusing on UHC as an overall framework to address various global health challenges, calling for mutual coordination and synergy. In reference to the upcoming UN General Assembly and UN HLMs on UHC, TB and pandemic preparedness and response, he stated: “In order to realize UHC, we expect ambitious and sustainable political and financial commitments from countries worldwide this autumn.” He also called on stakeholders to implement action, monitor progress and ensure accountability, while emphasizing the importance of investing in UHC, stating that “money matters.”

Dr. Justin Koonin, UHC2030 Co-Chair, spoke about the outcomes of the multistakeholder hearings and the role of UHC as the common thread that links different health agendas. “When you have universal health coverage, fueled by strong health systems with a focus on primary health care, it helps everyone.” He also underscored the gap between aspiration and implementation, referring to the Action Agenda as a means of filling that gap. He then called on countries to move from implementation to action and to explicitly state what they are going to do, how and when. “We cannot afford a rebranding of what happened in 2019,” he stated.

Dr. Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, Assistant Minister of Health and Populations from Egypt, spoke about Egypt’s initiative to improve primary health care facilities, referral systems and specialized hospitals, stating that “Health is [not only] the fundamental human right, but also a key driver of economic and social improvement.” He highlighted the importance of collaboration among the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders, and acknowledged the need for technical support and experience-sharing with people and governments who have similar goals.

HE Dr. Tamar Gabunia, First Deputy Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs, Georgia, spoke about Georgia’s new health strategy launched in 2022. Underscoring the central role of UHC for the country’s goals, he stated that “UHC is about social protection. UHC is about having people in the center of all policies. UHC is about human rights. Without universal access to health services, there is no chance for the country to achieve any goal in any direction.” Stating that COVID presented challenges but also opportunities to accelerate progress, he emphasized the need for UHC goals and clear agendas to meet those goals. He further called for investment in health as a means of benefiting all of society, and for health reform, stating that this is a key moment to accelerate progress towards UHC targets and invest in building resilient primary health care systems. He then highlighted the need for robust legal frameworks, speaking about access to medication and strengthening the health workforce as a means of driving health reform. He, too, called for action and greater partnership, reminding us that “UHC is feasible.”

HE Ethel Maciel, Vice-Minister for Health and Environmental Surveillance, Brazil, described Brazil’s system, where health coverage is fully financed by the state and health is listed as a human right in the constitution. She also emphasized the importance of local production to make medical supplies and services affordable, particularly in developing countries: “To have universal access, you need to increase local production. Countries must be capable to make their own products.” She highlighted the need to discuss intellectual property for health products and to ensure transparency and trust among stakeholders.

Dr. Jadej Thammatacharee, Secretary General of the National Health Security Office, Thailand, outlined Thailand’s expectations and priorities around UHC. He emphasized the importance of maintaining the momentum, to make UHC practical and sustainable. He called for sustainable, adequate, fair and efficient financing systems, adopted to the country context. He also highlighted the need for strong political commitment on social participation and engagement for UHC, and the need to integrate UHC with health security and health promotion. While underscoring the role of a multistakeholder approach to achieving UHC, he reminded participants about the need to harness social and technical innovations to achieve more equitable and efficient UHC. “We need strong health technology assessment and sturdy procurement systems to ensure efficient use of limited resources.”

Dr. Dale Huntington, Senior Director, Healthcare Systems Policy, Johnson & Johnson, spoke about the role of the private sector in achieving UHC, asking participants to acknowledge its diversity. “The private sector is large, diverse, and is highly active in national health care systems around the world.” He reminded participants of the private sector’s role in innovation, supply technologies, pharmaceuticals, digital solutions, supply chains, private insurance and health care networks. Referring to the UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency Statement, he also spoke about the wide-ranging contributions of the private sector to UHC and the health workforce, as well its ability to partner at scale and across countries and to complement national health care budgets. He thus called on participants to co-create an enabling environment for the private sector, stating that “To be effective, [partnership] models require political leadership to drive governments towards working with the private sector on UHC. When each country’s public sector sets the goals, guardrails, and predictable mechanisms of governance, the private sector’s contributions will be maximized.” He also urged governments to view health care not as an expenditure, but as an investment, and to ensure an inclusive ecosystem that values innovation. “Health care is fundamentally innovative, and innovation needs to be driven across all sectors of government.”

Rob Yates, Head of the Centre on Global Health Security, Chatham House, spoke about the work of the Commission for Universal Health. He reminded participants of the financial, political and social benefits of achieving UHC, stating that “We need public financing for our health reforms, and that comes with political commitment.” He called on participants to refer to Chatham House for support to obtain public financing and political commitment.

Dr Shyama Kuruvilla, Senior Strategic Adviser, WHO, provided closing remarks, thanking participants for keeping the energy, momentum and commitment going. Recognizing that the commitment to UHC is central to WHO’s work, she framed the upcoming high-level meeting as an opportunity for a concise, action-oriented declaration. She, too, referred to the Action Agenda and called on political leadership that translates into national plans and national budgets. She also emphasized the importance of reaching those furthest behind and of multistakeholder partnerships. She then spoke about primary health care as an approach to integrate all services, and highlighted the importance of having multistakeholder perspectives on essential public health functions. She concluded by highlighting the importance of community engagement, stating that “UHC is about you, about me, it’s about all people being able to claim their right to the highest attainable standard of health.”

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