19 February 2013 GENEVA - Top officials from health and finance ministries from 27 countries joined other high-level stakeholders at a two-day meeting this week in Geneva to discuss how countries are progressing toward universal health coverage. The meeting was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank and took place just weeks after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting universal health coverage.
Participants in the Geneva meeting, who included delegates from the Americas, expressed strong support for the ideas underlying universal health coverage: that everyone, irrespective of their ability to pay, should have access to the health services they need, without putting their families at financial risk.
Many speakers stressed the importance of getting political commitment to universal health coverage at the highest level. Some countries described how they are focusing their limited resources initially on providing coverage to the poor and vulnerable, while others have taken a more universal approach from the start. The use of general revenues to provide such coverage was a recurrent theme; but there was also some discussion about using earmarked revenues such as 'sin taxes'.
Participants agreed that human resource shortages posed a challenge, but also pointed to the need for more focus on the distribution of health workers —between rural and urban areas, and between poor and more affluent areas. Some speakers indicated that more could be achieved using existing resources. The meeting also examined strategies to ensure an adequate supply of good quality and affordable essential medicines and technologies, with some emphasizing the value of financial incentives to promote efficiency and quality of health services.
The participants agreed on the importance of improving information systems and holding governments and health care providers more accountable for delivering results. A central theme was how to ensure people receive the care they need at a cost the government can afford.
The importance of monitoring progress toward universal health coverage was also a recurrent theme, as was the important role of researchers, civil society, and international agencies. Several delegates expressed the hope that universal health coverage would feature in the post-2015 development goals.
The WHO and the World Bank are working together at global, regional and country levels, and stand ready to help countries accelerate progress toward universal health coverage. In response to country demand, the WHO and the World Bank are developing a monitoring framework that will help countries track their own progress toward universal health coverage in a way that explicitly captures the potential importance of universal health coverage in achieving better health and higher living standards for everyone. The framework will be available for consultation with countries and other partners later this year.
The UN General Assembly resolution urges Member States to develop health systems that avoid significant direct payments at the point of care. It further encourages them to establish mechanisms for pooling risks to avoid catastrophic health expenditures that drive households into poverty.
In the Americas
Accelerating progress toward universal access to quality health care is one of the highest priorities of the Pan American Health Organization’s new Director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, who took office in January.
“Of the many opportunities and challenges this Organization and our Member States face, one goal stands atop all the others. It is providing universal access to health care across the Americas,” she said at her swearing-in ceremony. “No other single achievement would contribute more to ensuring a long, dignified and productive life.”
For more information about WHO and World Bank work on universal health coverage:
- WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, opening speech
- Information in universal health care
- Inaugural Address of Dr. Carissa F. Etienne as Director of PAHO
- Interview Mr. Alberto Kleiman, Special Advisor, Ministry of Health of Brazil
- Interview Dr. Gabriel Manuell, General Director of Management of Health Services in Mexico
- Interview Dr. Daisy Corrales, Minister of Health of Costa Rica
- Interview Dr. Luis Castillo, Subsecretary of Care Networks of Chile
Telephone: +1 2024597115
WHO Media Coordinator
Department of Communications
Mobile: +41 79 203 6715