Monday, January 21, 2019

Prioritise Universal Health Coverage, provide quality healthcare to all: WHO

  • Nurul Islam Hasib,
    Published: 2018-04-07 01:03:12 BdST

Photo: Unicef

The World Health Organization has called upon the countries to step up their efforts towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and provide quality healthcare services to all when and where they are needed.

The UN agency on the World Health Day to be celebrated on Saturday in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world launched a new campaign — ‘Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere’.

The campaign will run throughout the year when the governments will be encouraged to devise new policies to deliver UHC.

“Universal health coverage is central to improving health and well-being – a fundamental human right,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, on the occasion of the Day.

“It is imperative for a country’s well-being as healthier populations create the productive economies,” she said.

UHC has become a buzzword in the health sector as WHO and the World Bank are promoting this as a way of preventing people from falling into poverty due to heavy out-of-pocket expenditure during medical treatment.

The UN General Assembly on Dec 12 in 2012 adopted a resolution emphasising health as a critical element in international development.

The resolution urged all countries to provide universal access to healthcare to their citizens without suffering from the consequences of financial hardship. The date, Dec 12, was declared as the UHC day.

The UHC concept is that people should have access to healthcare without getting into financial trouble.

Bangladesh has made progress in the health service delivery and reduced the burden of infectious diseases. Maternal mortality and under-5 child deaths have been cut significantly.

Despite those gains, experts say quality remains as a big challenge.

People have to spend over 65 percent of their entire health expenditure on their own, which estimates suggest pushes 5 percent of them into poverty every year.

“We adopted a healthcare financing strategy in 2012 to achieve universal health coverage by 2032,” director general for health services Prof Abul Kalam Azad told

This undated photo from UNICEF website shows Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general for Bangladesh health services, giving a brief on how ICT applications are improving the coverage and quality of health services.

This undated photo from UNICEF website shows Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general for Bangladesh health services, giving a brief on how ICT applications are improving the coverage and quality of health services.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also pledged to achieve universal health coverage by 2032 at the 64th World Health Assembly in 2011.

The government has also launched the UHC project on a pilot basis in three Upazillas of Tangail district.

But, the director general said, with the SDGs focusing on the issue, Bangladesh is now looking forward to achieving the target by 2030, the end year of the global goals.

UHC has also become a central element in the adoption of the SDGs as good health underlies all aspects of development and this is reflected in Goal 3.8.

WHO says the UHC includes the full spectrum of essential, quality health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

The WHO also acknowledged that in recent years, all Member States of the region including Bangladesh had taken several initiatives which have helped improve access to essential health services. However, challenges remain, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Nearly half of the WHO South-East Asia Region’s population still lacks full coverage of essential health services.

Significant inequalities persist. Poorer people and those in rural areas have lower access than richer people, and those living in urban areas.

Some 65 million are pushed into extreme poverty, mainly due to paying out-of-pocket for medicines, especially for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes etc., and other common ailments.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh. Photo: WHO

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh. Photo: WHO

Dr Khetrapal Singh said more efforts are needed to increase human resources for health, enhance skills of health workers and aid staff retention in the rural and hard-to-reach area, to ensure quality health services are available for everyone, everywhere.

Health services must be planned around the needs of the people, she said, highlighting that by 2020 more of the Region’s population will be over 60 than under-five.

“Hence, an ageing population, reversing the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, and early detection and timely treatment of infectious diseases, should be the focus of frontline services.”

“Increasing access to quality and affordable essential medicines is also fundamental. Paying out-of-pocket for medicines is the leading cause of financial hardship from health care spending in this region,” the Regional Director said.

“UHC is feasible and can be achieved progressively, sometimes with rapid, ground-breaking strides; sometimes via gradual though crucial reform”.