Health for all is key for a safer, fairer, more prosperous region
Imagine if you had a heart attack, were injured in a car accident, had difficulty breathing, were pregnant, felt depressed, noticed a strange lump somewhere in your body, or all of a sudden could no longer see. Would you be able to get the health care you need?
In some Asian and Pacific countries up to half of the people lack access to health services. This might be because they can’t afford to pay, or because health services are too far from their homes, or they lack qualified health workers, equipment or medications. This is unacceptable. Everyone, everywhere needs access to essential health services. But access isn’t the only issue. Even for those who can access services, in some countries one in five families spends more than 10% of their income on health care. This, too, is unacceptable.
On April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) will celebrate its 70th anniversary by placing renewed emphasis on its founding mission—health as a fundamental human right. Health for all, also known as universal health coverage, means that everyone can access the health services they need, where and when they need them, without financial hardship.
Seven decades after our founding, we are returning to our core mission. Why? Despite significant health gains around the world, many people are still just one illness away from poverty. While people are living longer than ever, the number of people living with one or more diseases that require complex care over many years is on the rise.
There are glaring gaps in access to health care. Whether people can’t afford to pay, live too far away from health facilities, lack knowledge, or suffer from stigma or discrimination, we must solve these problems. We must not tolerate these inequities.
In some countries in the region, if the situation doesn’t improve, one in three 30-year-olds will die before their 70th birthday from noncommunicable diseases such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer. To maximize their chances of living long, productive lives, they need access to services that are effective in preventing and managing these diseases.
We need care that promotes health and prevents sickness. We also need better care for people who already have health conditions. Comprehensive care must be available closer to people’s homes, coordinated by health-care teams to provide both convenience and the opportunity to build enduring and trusting relationships with the people and the communities they serve.
To address the health challenges of the future, and to build strong health systems that leave no one behind, we need leaders to be visionary, courageous and willing to embrace long-term thinking. They can do this by making the choice to commit to universal health coverage and by taking action to change the way health systems are designed, financed and services delivered so that they consider and respond to the comprehensive needs of people throughout their life.
We live in a thriving region with fast-growing economies. It is home to more than a quarter of the planet’s people. To ensure long-term growth, reduce poverty, help children to grow and adults to earn, universal health coverage must be at the heart of the development agenda.
Everyone should be part of the dialogue to shape policies that help countries make progress towards universal health coverage. If you believe in the basic human right to health, I encourage you to join us on April 7 in advocating for a safer, fairer, more prosperous region for all.
The author is WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.