Calling for Universal Health Coverage, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Meeting Possible to Cover Every Person Worldwide if Countries Take Urgent, Focused Action
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohamed, to the opening segment of the high-level meeting on universal health coverage, in New York today:
Every meeting during this high-level week is about advancing our common vision of a world in which no one is left behind. This meeting reminds us of a core truth: an equal chance in life demands equal access to health.
Yet, half of humanity does not have access to essential health services. And the latest data shows that 2 billion people faced financial hardship due to out-of-pocket health spending, including 344 million people living in extreme poverty.
This is a human rights tragedy on a massive scale. Universal health coverage aims to address this injustice. The good news is that covering every person in the world is possible. But, it requires urgent and focused action in two key areas.
One — Governments must invest in systems that address communities’ needs through a primary health-care approach. Locally accessible primary health care is the foundation of universal health coverage — and people’s first line of defence against illness and disease.
From basic health and nutrition screenings and treatments. To vaccinations and immunization programmes. To medicines, diagnostics and devices. To pre- and post-natal care for mothers and their children.
Scaling up primary care interventions is a proven lifesaver and could save 60 million lives by 2030 in low- and middle-income countries. Governments must expand and improve these services and ensure that people can receive multiple services in the same place at the same time.
They must ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services for girls and women, while focusing on the most vulnerable populations, including children, refugees, migrants and those living through humanitarian crises.
They must invest in a well-trained, well-paid health workforce capable of delivering safe, effective quality care to all who need it. They must increase the presence and voices of women — who already make up the majority of health workers — at every leadership table across health systems.
And they must massively scale-up investments into all the systems that support people’s health — from water and sanitation, to nutrition and pandemic preparedness, to clean air and social protections.
And two — we need financing on a massive scale. Developing countries cannot foot the bill alone. I call on countries to generously support the SDG Stimulus to increase financing for sustainable development to reach at least $500 billion per year, including investments in health systems.
We need an effective debt-relief mechanism that supports payment suspensions, longer lending terms and lower rates for developing countries drowning in debt. And we must re-capitalize and change the business model of multilateral development banks so they can massively leverage private finance at affordable rates to benefit developing countries.
It is a grim irony that the medical miracles of the last century have far-outstripped humanity’s ability to ensure that these treatments and basic interventions reach people who need them. This failure is reflected in the poor progress made towards SDG 3 on health.
But, it is most clearly visible in the faces of people around the world for whom access to quality health care remains a distant dream: a mother dying in childbirth; parents watching helplessly as their children succumb to a preventable disease; communities robbed of the ideas and talents of people who couldn’t access a vaccination when they needed it; [and] people financially crushed by medical bills.
Let’s transform the life-saving vision of universal health coverage into reality for people, communities and countries around the world. Let us keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda.