Accelerating access to universal health coverage

More than 1 billion people in the world lack access to basic health care, and another 100 million fall into poverty trying to access it each year. Nearly a third of households in Southeast Asia that includes Bangladesh have to borrow money or sell assets to pay for health care. Study conducted by icddr,b showed that around 6.4 million or four percent people in Bangladesh get poorer every year due to excessive health cost. In Bangladesh, out of the pocket health expenditure is very high about 64 percent.

These statistics indicate an urgent call for action to strengthen our health system so that everywhere, everyone including extreme poor and marginalised have the access to healthcare. Experts say that it is possible in the form of universal health coverage which is affordable and attainable. Countries as diverse as Brazil, Thailand, Mexico and Ghana are implementing steps toward universal health coverage, reducing the number of families facing catastrophic health care costs. In addition, about 24% of the growth in full income between 2000 and 2011 in low- and middle-income countries resulted from health improvements.

A new global coalition of more than 500 leading health and development organisations worldwide is urging governments to accelerate reforms that ensure everyone, everywhere, can access quality health services without being forced into poverty. The coalition was launched on December 12, 2014, on the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day, to stress the importance of universal access to health services for saving lives, ending extreme poverty, building resilience against the health effects of climate change and ending deadly epidemics such as Ebola.

Despite progress in combating global killers such as HIV/AIDS and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus and diphtheria, the global gap between those who can access needed health services without fear of financial hardship and those who cannot is widening. Thus, the need for equitable access to quality health care has never been greater, and there is unprecedented demand for universal health coverage around the world.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak is only the most recent reminder of the desperate need to strengthen health systems for everyone, everywhere. Experts say that investing in strong, equitable health systems is the only way to truly protect and improve lives, particularly in the face of emerging threats like the global rise of non-communicable diseases and increasingly severe natural disasters.

For much of the 20th century, universal health coverage was limited to a few high-income countries, but in the past two decades, a number of lower- and middle-income countries have successfully embraced reforms to make quality health care universally available. Today, the two most populous countries, India and China, are pursuing universal health coverage, and more than 80 countries have asked the World Health Organisation for implementation assistance. Time has come for us – because health for all saves lives, strengthens nations and is achievable and affordable for every country.