WHO Director-General’s Keynote speech for International Universal Health Coverage Day (12 December 2021) – World
EMRO, Dubai Expo, Ministry of Health and Prevention, UAE
Your Excellency Minister Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais,
Jessy El Murr, our moderator,
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
It is a pleasure and honour to join you as we come together to celebrate Universal Health Coverage Day, and the launch of the 2021 Global Monitoring Reports on UHC and Financial Protection.
Universal health coverage is based on the principle of access to quality health services for everyone – the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the young and the old – and everywhere, along the life course, without fear of financial hardship.
In 2018, the World Health Assembly committed to an ambitious target: to see one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage by 2023, on the way to the Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving UHC in all countries by 2030.
The 2021 Global Monitoring Report shows while we have made significant progress, we are far behind our targets, particularly in low and lower-middle income countries, and among marginalized populations in all countries.
We have made some important progress, with growth in incomes leading to increase coverage of health services. While this is positive news, there are three important caveats.
First, health spending for almost one billion people was at a level deemed catastrophic. An estimated half a billion people were pushed or further pushed into extreme poverty due to the costs from health care.
This is unacceptable.
Second, increases in access to services were not distributed equally, either between households or countries. Higher-income countries and individuals alike benefited the most from expansions in services.
Third, the devastating impact of the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has further strained already over-stretched health systems, disrupting services, making it even more difficult for people to access, and to pay for services.
To put it bluntly, no one should be faced with a choice that says, in effect, “your money or your life”.
This analysis shows, that far too many people and families are still making that choice every day.
Let me leave you with three priorities:
First, we have to end the acute stage of the pandemic, and the disruption it is causing to health systems, societies and economies.
WHO and our partners are working to urgently address health system bottlenecks that are impeding access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
We’re also working with countries to promote infection prevention and control, and to minimize disruptions to essential health services.
Second, we must strengthen the global health architecture.
This includes the proposed international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response; as well as enhanced governance, financing, systems and tools, and a strengthened, empowered and sustainably financed WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.
And third, we must refocus our efforts on the basics: strengthening health systems, prioritizing investment in government-funded public health functions, and investing in primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage.
This must also include well supported preparedness and response capability that includes a One Health approach to address the intersection of human, animal and environmental health.
The pandemic has highlighted that health is not a product of strong and prosperous nations; it is the means.
Because a healthy population is a secure, resilient and prosperous population.
I thank you.