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Thursday, 21 June 2012 18:17

Rio+20 Resolution Creates Vital Opportunity for Universal Health Coverage

The mention to universal health coverage in the draft Rio+20 resolution creates a very important opportunity to strengthen health systems all around the world, said Brazilian Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, in a panel at the Conference. “This is a landmark achievement, which we need to understand, analyze and implement,” he said.  

The inclusion to universal health coverage in the text was possible only because of the commitment of several countries and the technical support and leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), Padilha said. Other speakers in the panel “Health and sustainable development – reinforcing the links”, which took place on June 20, were  Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO and Sudvhvir Sing a Delegate and Public Health Doctor, from New Zealand

According to Padilha, the inclusion of universal health coverage in the text was greatly facilitated by three events recently organized by WHO: the Conference on Social Determinants of Health, the last World Health Assembly, whose theme was universal access to health, and an international seminar on non-communicable diseases held in Brasilia. “These events allowed us to bring the health agenda to the center of the development agenda,“ he said.

Dr Chan expressed satisfaction with the inclusion of a comprehensive health agenda in the draft declaration. “Health was virtually silent in the first draft, but the countries were not satisfied with that.  WHO worked very closely with them to support them to reach this result, “she said.

The WHO Director-General also suggested that health indicators should be used to monitor the objectives of the declaration. “Health indicators are readily measurable, highly sensitive and personal,” she said. “They are also very good to generate political interest.”

“Investments on health alone cannot solve problems of foreign debt and climate change, but health remains a vital measure of sustainable development.  Health is the area in which we can more clarify demonstrate results,” she said.

Sudvhvir Sing mentioned that health and well-being were the least controversial issues of the declaration, which the exception of the item on sexual and reproductive rights, which was eliminated from the draft, although a reference to sexual and reproductive health remained. He reminded participants that the “zero draft” contained only two “anemic” references to health.

In addition to universal health coverage, other health issues mentioned in the draft declaration include communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases, pollution, intellectual property agreements, and the need to strengthen health systems and WHO.

“It would be ideal if as a next step we have a global commitment towards using health indicators to measure sustainable development,” he said. “Countries should advocate for this as part of the development of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Asked if the declaration meant that countries had to provide free care to the population, Dr Chan said there were different ways to reach universal health coverage. “The money has to come from somewhere,” she said. “But nobody should be denied health care because they cannot pay – that punishes the poor and we don’t want that. “