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COPENHAGEN - Universal health coverage is a simple idea: it means that all people can use quality health services, where and when they need them, without experiencing financial hardship. It is a fundamental human right, a vision that WHO has pursued in partnership with countries since its foundation 70 years ago.
Yet despite impressive progress in the WHO European Region, even the most advanced countries have not been able to protect everyone from financial hardship caused by out-of-pocket payments for health care, and the heaviest burden falls on poor and vulnerable people.
It is unacceptable that anyone today – a pensioner, single parent, unemployed person, your neighbour or mine – should be pushed into poverty by having to pay for the treatment they need. No one should have to choose between buying medicines or putting food on their table, or paying the rent.
Europe has a strong history of recognizing the right to health for all, with equal access. These are guiding values for our health systems.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has made “universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all” a global goal. This year, WHO and its Member States have committed to an ambitious 5-year plan to accelerate progress towards achieving universal health coverage.
On WHO’s 70th anniversary, we should not only reflect on the impressive progress in health that has been achieved in our lifetimes – from routine vaccination against childhood diseases to vastly improved maternal health, a focus on healthy environments, protection from health threats, and a strong legal framework to stop tobacco use, for example – but also recommit to the most fundamental goal of health for all.
This World Health Day, WHO calls on leaders in the European Region to take concerted action towards universal health coverage. Universal access to a strong and resilient people-centered health system with primary care as its foundation – bringing together community-based services, health promotion and disease prevention – produces social and economic benefits for individuals and societies.
We have a legacy to build on. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the landmark Declaration of Alma-Ata and the 10th anniversary of the Tallinn Charter: Health Systems for Health and Wealth. In 1978, leaders expressed their commitment to achieve health for all through primary health care. The Declaration’s pillars – universal coverage, equity in health, intersectoral collaboration and community participation – are more relevant than ever, and we must complete the work we began.
Specifically, reducing the out-of-pocket payments that lead to financial hardship requires more public financing and carefully designed coverage policies with a focus on poorer people and other vulnerable groups.
To support countries in making informed choices, WHO/Europe undertook a regional analysis of the strength of financial protection and of the health coverage policies that influence health system performance in 25 countries. Findings suggest that all countries can do more and better to move towards universal health coverage.
The analysis also offers a wealth of good practices demonstrating how countries can provide strong financial protection for everybody. Key policy messages will be presented at the WHO high-level meeting “Health systems for prosperity and solidarity: leaving no one behind” in Estonia on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Tallinn Charter.
Health is our most precious asset. It must not be a luxury enjoyed by the privileged. We all benefit socially, economically and environmentally from a world that seeks health for all. It is time that we come together and make this a common goal.