Universal Health Coverage: a dream to be achieved

Human beings are concerned about their health and want to remain healthy. This desire to remain healthy is more pronounced when any disease or sickness afflicts someone. In today’s world health care is complex, costly and inaccessible. Accordingly, there is a requirement that healthcare should be affordable, accessible and of good quality.

Health is a basic human right. Ideally every individual should live a healthy productive life in all phases of his/her development. But access to health and healthcare is dependent upon financial condition of the individual. People aspire to receive healthcare that is of high quality and at the same time affordable.

In Pakistan when any person belonging to a lower social strata falls sick, the individual is not covered by any social protection, so he/she has to make out of pocket payments for purchasing consultancy, diagnostics, medicines and procedures. This expenditure is astronomical forcing a poor person into a spiraling poverty trap. Universal health coverage (UHC) is the answer to this problem.

In 1948, WHO in its constitution declared health as a fundamental human right. The WHO at its international conference on primary health care held at Alma Atta in 1978, adopted “Health for all” as a program to be actively pursued, so that this fundamental human right can become a reality. It was thought that primary health care (PHC)” is the path that would lead to attainment of HFA. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were also a step forward in this direction, and health MDGs were an important component of the same.

Currently sustainable development goals (SDGs) also revolve around social policies augmenting health and economic systems where financial hardship of poor and needy is taken into account. It is vital to develop a robust health system which is efficient with access to quality services, medicines, technologies and trained health workers. Such a system can play a pivotal role in UHC by taking care of the entire population of a region or country. It also requires a sound funding system to protect poor people from financial hardship. Access to health services will ensure healthy populations and promote financial risk protection. Universal health care is an important component of poverty reduction that helps eliminate social inequities.

It is not easy for any country to achieve UHC because the task is gigantic. A multi-sectorial approach is required and certain essential elements are needed to be in place for progress in the direction of UHC. Health care system should meet health needs of the people through an integrated people-centered approach by informing and encouraging people to staying healthy and preventing illness; detecting health conditions early; having the capacity to treat diseases; and helping patients with rehabilitation, ensuring palliative care where needed.

In addition, a system for financing health services so people do not suffer financial hardship when using them needs to be developed. A sufficient capacity of well-trained, motivated health workers to diagnose and treat medical problems based on the best available evidence together with the availability of essential medicines and technologies is needed. Action is needed to address social determinants of health such as education, living conditions and household income which affect people’s health and their access to services. In summary, universal health care aims to achieve better health and development outcomes by protecting  people from falling into poverty due to illness and providing them an opportunity to lead healthier and more productive lives.

Major General Viqar Ahmed Khan is a volunteer at Heartfile.


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