African leaders advised to honour commitment to Universal Health Coverage

Medical Doctors attending to patients used to illustrate the story health
Doctors attending to patients used to illustrate the story

African leaders have been urged to honour their commitment towards achieving a Universal Health Coverage for all citizens by 2030.

The World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, made this call on Friday in Abuja as part of the World Health Day 2018 which also doubles as the 70th anniversary of the agency.

The World Health Day is celebrated globally, April 7.

With the theme for this year’s celebration “Universal health coverage (UHC): everyone, everywhere” Ms Moeti, who was represented by the WHO country representative to Nigeria, Wondi Alemu, said African leaders should live up to the SDG pledges they made in 2015, and to commit to concrete actions.

Speaking on the theme, Mr Alemu said WHO is drawing attention of global leaders to the need to achieve UHC as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 which called for health for all by the year 2000.

Mr Alemu said countries must strive to improve health governance and information systems to ensure better regulation, planning and accountability to their communities and partners.

He said effective leadership and high-level political commitment are critical to achieving UHC in any country.

Mr Alemu said though health outcomes in the African region have been improved through strategies such as distributing insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, and vaccinating against the human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer, more needs to be done in order to provide affordable healthcare services for people within the region.

He said to achieve the feat, adequate and sustained investment in health is necessary for ensuring equitable access to health services.

“Member States should address the persistent challenge of inadequate health workforce. Ethiopia exemplifies how investment in health workers, and specifically community health workers, contribute to improved delivery of essential health services.

“UHC means ensuring that everyone – no matter where they live or who they are – can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship. It is a powerful equaliser that ensures #Health for All, enhances health security, reduces poverty and promotes gender equality,” he said.

Mr Alemu added that WHO in the African Region is committed to supporting Member States to achieve UHC and have developed a framework of actions to assist countries in selecting their own path towards achieving both UHC and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We have also developed a flagship programme geared towards providing integrated and holistic support to countries through implementation support, a regional learning programme for UHC and more.”

A 2017 report by the agency indicated that half of the world population cannot afford essential healthcare services even as a number of households are being pushed daily into poverty each year.

The report showed that even for those who can afford to pay for these services, about 800 million of them spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or family member.

Though progress was recorded in some countries, the report says, “progress is uneven.”

Unfortunately, Nigeria is one of WHO member states yet to achieve the UHC agenda for its citizens.

Nigeria is still identified as one of those countries where many citizens cannot obtain essential health services and have to pay through their noses to obtain medical care as the out of pocket spending in Nigeria is said to be as high as 70 per cent.

Though the government has initiated lots of plans such as the National Health Insurance Scheme, the National Health Acts among others, the efforts are yet to yield desired results.

The National Health Act, which is part of the plans aimed at achieving UHC is yet to be implemented though the National Assembly has promised to provide for it in the 2018 budget.

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, during the fifth World Universal Health Coverage Day said the UHC is enshrined in the nation’s constitution.

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