The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank have jointly released the 2023 Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Global Monitoring Report, shedding light on a troubling standstill in the journey towards equitable, accessible, and affordable healthcare for all.
Released prior to the High-Level Meeting on UHC during the 78th United Nations General Assembly, this report presents a stark reality based on the latest evidence – more than half of the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services. Worse still, a staggering 2 billion individuals face crippling financial burdens when attempting to pay for their healthcare needs.
Health and Stability Go Hand in Hand
The COVID-19 pandemic served as a stark reminder of the intricate connection between healthy populations and robust economies. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasizes that the inability of many to access affordable, high-quality essential health services not only endangers their well-being but also threatens the stability of communities, societies, and economies. Urgent action is needed, including stronger political commitment, increased investments in health, and a transformative shift towards health systems grounded in primary healthcare.
A Troubling Reality Check
The 2023 report reveals that in the past two decades, less than one-third of countries have made progress in expanding health service coverage and reducing catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditures. Shockingly, most countries (out of 138) that provided data on both UHC dimensions are off-track in either service coverage, financial protection, or both.
Slowed Growth in Essential Health Services
While there have been improvements in health service coverage since the turn of the century, progress has stagnated since 2015 when the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted. Most notably, there was no improvement recorded from 2019 to 2021. Infectious disease services have made significant strides, but coverage for noncommunicable diseases and reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health services has remained stagnant. In 2021, a shocking 4.5 billion people, over half the global population, were still without comprehensive health services. It’s important to note that this estimate doesn’t even capture the potential long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Escalating Financial Hardships
Catastrophic out-of-pocket health spending, defined as exceeding 10% of a household’s budget, continues to rise. Shockingly, over one billion individuals (14% of the global population) grapple with these enormous health expenditures relative to their incomes. Even minor costs, in absolute terms, can plunge low-income families into turmoil, with approximately 1.3 billion people, including 300 million already dwelling in extreme poverty, pushed further into financial despair.
The Urgent Call to Action
The urgency of achieving Universal Health Coverage by 2030 cannot be overstated. It aligns with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and embodies the fundamental human right to health. Realizing this goal demands substantial public sector investments, swift government and development partner action, and a radical shift towards primary healthcare. Priority must be given to equitable healthcare access and financial protection, alongside investments in robust health information systems.
A Resounding Wake-Up Call
The 2023 UHC Global Monitoring Report sounds a clarion call to the global community. It underscores the dire need to prioritize and invest in Universal Health Coverage, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can access quality, affordable healthcare without suffering financial hardship.
In a world grappling with unprecedented challenges, it is imperative that we prioritize the health and well-being of every individual. Universal Health Coverage isn’t just a goal; it’s a moral obligation and a shared global responsibility.
The report serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need for action, unity, and unwavering commitment to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable for all. It is not merely a matter of policy; it is a matter of humanity. The path to Universal Health Coverage may be fraught with challenges, but it is a path that we must traverse together, ensuring that no one is left behind.