Health

WHO is urging countries to move towards universal health coverage

Third UN Financing for Development Conference

Témoignages.re / 10 July 2015

WHO lays out plans for financing new global health goal : to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to move towards universal health coverage and to scale up international investment in catalytic development funding. The call comes as world leaders travel to the Third UN Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to pay for the new Sustainable Development Goals, to be launched in New York in September 2015.

“The best way to assure meaningful progress towards the new global health goal is for countries to move closer to universal health coverage,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

Many countries will need help to generate the funding to do this. This week’s conference will focus on strengthening international cooperation to build developing countries’ capacity to improve domestic tax policy and revenue collection as well as efforts to reduce illicit financial flows and tax avoidance at the international level.

Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals

By the end of this year, if current trends continue, the world will meet Millennium Development Goal targets for turning around the epidemics of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis and increasing access to safe drinking water. It will also have made substantial progress in reducing child under-nutrition, maternal and child deaths, and increasing access to basic sanitation.

But wide gaps remain between and within countries. Much still needs to be done - particularly in the poorest countries and countries affected by conflict. And new health challenges have emerged, as highlighted by the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the rise of non-communicable diseases. Within this context, countries have agreed a new global health goal with a strong focus on equity - to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

A recent WHO and World Bank Group report (Tracking universal health coverage : First global monitoring report) shows that 400 million people do not have access to essential health services and 6 % of people in developing countries are tipped into or pushed further into extreme poverty because of health spending.

“No one should risk financial ruin because they need health care,” says Dr Chan. “And no one should be denied health services, because they can’t afford to pay for them.”

Moving towards universal health coverage

Universal health coverage, a major focus of WHO’s work for the past five years, aims to redress those imbalances. As a first step, the Organization recommends reducing the need for people to pay directly for services at the point of delivery – out of their own pockets. In countries that depend heavily on out-of-pocket payments, health bills push 100 million people into poverty each year.

Public funding is key to reducing out of pocket expenditure. As public spending on health goes up, dependence on out-of-pocket payments declines. Between 1995 to 2013, government spending on health increased from 3.4 to 4.1 percent of GDP - on average across 190 countries. The increase in low-income countries has been greater, from 1.7 to 2.6 % of GDP.
Despite this improvement, there is a long way to go. The challenge for countries is twofold : to mobilize more domestic public resources for health, and to ensure health systems use resources more efficiently.

At the Addis Ababa conference, WHO will urge the international community to strengthen cooperation with low - and lower-middle income countries to combine domestic and external funding so they provide sufficient resources to build robust health systems.

The Organization will also emphasize the importance of getting better results from the money spent by putting in place innovative service delivery arrangements, lowering prices of key inputs (e.g. medicines) procured internationally, and reducing fragmentation in aid flows to countries.

“If the world is serious about the health-related SDG targets, it needs to make serious investments – both at domestic and international levels,” adds Dr Chan.

WHO highlights the potential to generate additional public revenues through taxation of tobacco products. A recent report reveals that only 33 countries worldwide have introduced taxes that represent more than 75 % of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes. Some have no or very little excise taxes on tobacco products, depriving themselves of a proven measure to improve health and generate funds for stronger health services.

The Organization also supports the push for high income countries to achieve the target of devoting 0.7 % of their Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA) and 0.15 % to 0.20 %of ODA/GNI to the least developed countries. It advocates for more efficient delivery of such aid, exploring, developing, and documenting ways to align behind comprehensive national health plans, in line with IHP+ (International Health Partnership) principles of development effectiveness.


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