11 May 2023

Close to 500 representatives from non-state organisations gathered at the UN in New York on 8-9 May 2023 to express their hopes and ambitions for the outcomes of the UN high-level meetings on health that will take place at the UNGA in September.

Photo of conference room at UN Multistakeholder Hearing

“Health is a smart, long-term investment in sustainable development.” This is how H.E. Mr. Csaba Kὄrösi, President of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (PGA) opened the multi-stakeholder hearing on universal health coverage (UHC) which took place on 9 May in preparation for the UN High-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage. Attended by passionate and determined representatives and advocates from a diverse range of non-state organisations - including civil society, communities, youth groups, health and care workers, parliamentarian and local government networks, foundations, academia and the private sector – the hearing allowed a range of partners to make their own specific statements about their hopes and ambitions for the outcomes of the UN high-level meeting. The meeting was convened by the President of the UN General Assembly, and supported by the World Health Organization and UHC2030. A recording of the event is available here. The official summary is also available here.

Many representatives from member states attended the hearing and were given a chance to interact with select UHC2030 partners during a high-level luncheon, which was co-hosted with the Group of Friends of UHC and Global Health and Co-facilitators of the 2023 UN HLMs on health (Thailand, Guyana, Israel, Morocco, Poland, Uzbekistan) in partnership with the Coalition of Partnerships for UHC and Global Health (UHC2030, Stop TB Partnership), WHO and IFRC. The luncheon was focused on promoting linkages across the three UN HLMs, to ensure coordinated and accelerated action from both member states and all stakeholders for strengthening health systems, building resilience towards health emergencies, and achieving UHC. Read our summary here.

Around the hearings, UHC2030 Co-chair Ms. Gabriela Cuevas, members of the Steering Committee, the Political Advisory Panel, the Coalition of Partnerships for UHC and Global Health, and UHC2030’s UN high-level meeting Task Force co-hosted and spoke at various side-events focused on UHC, including the high-level luncheon for member states; a debriefing event at the Ford Foundation, co-hosted by the UN Foundation and other partners; and a SDG3 Global Action Plan roundtable with civil society.

Time to act now – commitments alone are not enough

During the multi-stakeholder hearing, participants made statements, shared diverse perspectives, experiences, good practices and lessons learned, and exchanged views on the key priorities to raise with Heads of States and governments during the UN High-level meeting, building on the Action Agenda from the UHC movement, which was developed through a consultative process. 

A common thread during the hearing was how UHC is not just about health, but critical also to drive broader socio-economic development and reduce inequities. UHC provides a coherent framework to bring all health agendas together and achieve all SDG health targets. With the three high-level meetings in September 2023, we have a unique opportunity to foster greater integration efforts, including ending pandemics and epidemics, and make progress towards UHC.

The outcome of the meeting will be a summary prepared by the President of the General Assembly and circulated to all member states and other stakeholders before starting the negotiation process of the political declaration. 

The following distinguished officials provided opening remarks, highlighting, among others, the following:

  • H.E. Mr. Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly “If we want to achieve our targets, we need to change gear and track. Universal health coverage is not just a political commitment. It is a tool for socio-economic prosperity. It provides the interconnectedness of every challenge we face and solutions we need.”
  • Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations: “Universal health coverage is the world’s agreed pathway to delivering on everyone’s right to health. At the High-level meetings, we need each and every state to commit to reorienting health systems to focus on primary health care.”
  • Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization: “We need urgent action to get back on track on UHC. The upcoming UNGA is vital to rekindle political commitment for health for all.”
  • Ms. Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Co-chair, UHC2030 Steering Committee: “We are here because we care. 70 million people are pushed into poverty every year because of health costs. We need to stop giving the money the power to decide who is healthy and who dies.”

Co-faciliators responsible for leading member state negotiations for the Political Declaration on UHC, to be adopted at the UN High-level meeting in September 2023, provided closing remarks:

  • H.E. Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United Nations: “There is an unequivocal recognition that putting people at the centre is the only way to achieve UHC and the SDGs.”
  • H.E. Mr. Suriya Chindawongse, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations: “We need a results-oriented, people-centred and equitable Political Declaration and integrated efforts across the three UN high-level meetings.”

Panel 1: UHC as a driver to accelerate health for all

Moderated by Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group Chief Executive Officer, Amref Health Africa, this session focused on the critical contribution of UHC to address all health needs across the life course and providing the foundation to protect people from health threats.

“It’s about life. Only healthy children can learn and healthy adults can earn,” Dr. Gitahi said.

Participants from the floor shared their organizational statements relating to the Action Agenda from the UHC Movement, and what they expect and hope to come out of the UN High-level meeting. The discussion emphasized a number of issues, including: achieving equity through increasing public investment for health and reducing out of pocket payments while prioritizing primary health care; gender equality; a strong health workforce, with fair remuneration and decent working conditions; the need to include the most vulnerable populations by creating safe space, reducing discrimination and removing barriers; the importance for governments to institutionalise and resource social participation and accountability within the health system; the unique contribution of community health programmes; integration of specific health and disease interventions into UHC through a primary health care approach.

The panelists each gave an opening and closing statement, highlighting, among others, the following:

  • Mr. Mahmood Al-Hamody, Vice-President for External Affairs, International Federation of Medical Students’ Association: “The backbone of UHC is people. This means human rights, equity, inclusion and meaningful engagement.”
  • Ms. Emilia Saiz Carrancedo, Secretary- General, United Cities and Local Governments: “There is no one-size-fits-all model for health but what we have heard is that including communities at all levels is essential.”
  • Ms. Myrna Cunningham, Vice-President, The Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean: “We can only achieve UHC if we really include everybody, and share experiences such as from reaching out to indigenous communities.”
  • Ms. Nupur Lalvani, Founder Director at Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation: “We need to remember who the people are for whom we are here for today. We can leave no one behind.”

Panel 2: From UHC commitment to actions and accountability

Moderated by Ms. Elisha Dunn-Georgiou, President & CEO, Global Health Council, the session focused on what it takes to bring commitment into tangible changes for real people and the responsibilities of different stakeholders to make change happen.

“We know that UHC is going to require action, accountabilty, measurement and money,” Ms. Dunn-Georgiou said.

Participants also shared their organizational statements relating to the Action Agenda from the UHC Movement, and what they expect and hope to come out of the UN high-level meeting.  The discussion emphasized a number of issues, including: the importance of legislation and regulation to guarantee the right to health, particularly for the needs of the most disadvantaged groups to be addressed and their voices to be heard; the need for commitments to be embedded in national policies and laws, including specific targets and milestones; social participation and addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged groups to be transparent and creating accountable systems; the responsibility of parliamentarians for their law-making, budget approval and oversight roles; the contribution of digitalization.

The panelists each gave an opening and closing statement, highlighting, among others, the following:

  • Ms. Saraí Núñez Cerón, Vice-President, IPU Health Advisory Group, Inter-Parliamentary Union: “True love is only shown in budgets. If not, it’s only political rhetoric.”
  • Ms. Lujain Alqodmani, President-Elect, World Medical Association: “We need to invest in, protect and care for the physical and mental health of health and care workers, including protection against violence, for delivery of quality health care.”
  • Mx. Dumiso Gatsha, Founder, Success Capital organization: “We need stronger social engagement and inclusion, and better reporting and disaggregated data on UHC to ensure no one is left behind.”
  • Dr. Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, WHO Special Envoy for the European Region and Member of the UHC Political Advisory Panel: “We need to ask Member States: what are your actions, and what are your exact milestones. We see a big gap between promises and implementation.”
  • Ms. Olesya Struk, Senior Director, Group Sustainability, Royal Philips: “In order to move towards UHC, we need to scale up primary health care. We need to build trust between all sectors.”

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