World leaders adopted the United Nations Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) at a high-level meeting on Monday, making the first such commitment of its kind.
The declaration, which outlines a vision for UHC by 2030, comes a day after a World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that unless existing health coverage is doubled by 2030, 5 billion people will be unable to access health care.
Member states made the commitment at the beginning of the UN’s High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, themed “Moving Together to Build a Healthier World,” which brought together heads of state, political leaders, and health coverage advocates. The meeting was the last chance before the mid-point of the SDGs in 2023 to mobilize political support for UHC.
World leaders just adopted the high-level @UN Political Declaration on universal health coverage, the most comprehensive health agreement ever made at this level 👉 https://t.co/6N02kTXkfc#UNGA— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) September 23, 2019
It's time for #HealthForAll! pic.twitter.com/ojn60oZVSU
The WHO applauded the move, saying that UHC is key to ensuring the Sustainable Development Goals are met. These sentiments were echoed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who said UHC is intrinsically linked to SDG targets in gender equality, zero hunger, and more.
In his remarks to the high-level meeting, Guterres said the declaration is “the most comprehensive agreement ever reached on global health.”
The UN Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage commits countries toward full health coverage for citizens by investing in four major areas: health financing, high-impact interventions, health workforce, and governance and capacity. Member states will report back to the UN General Assembly on their progress in 2023.
The agreement is expected to help tackle communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and address non-communicable diseases, in addition to granting universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services.
UHC grants people access to health care when and where they need it, regardless of their ability to pay. Almost 4 billion people, or half of the world’s population, lack access to essential health care, according to the WHO and the World Bank. In addition, medical expenses push almost 100 million people into extreme poverty every year.
“Health for all is an investment in humanity and in well-being and prosperity for everyone,” Guterres said, adding that it is a catalyst for both economic growth and social progress. He also said that weak health care systems pose a risk that extends beyond national borders.
Lack of access to health care is deadly. In the US alone, a study found that 45,000 deaths are linked to a lack of health insurance. Globally, lack of access to adequate health care results in one woman or baby dying every 11 seconds.
In order to achieve universal health coverage for all, $200 billion per year is needed, according to Dr. Peter Salama, executive director in charge of UHC targets at the World Health Organization. This investment would save 60 million lives.
“So we’re not turning to the donor community and saying, ‘Give us $200 billion’ ... The money is there for many countries, they just have to spend it on the right things,” he said, explaining that many middle-income and higher-income countries, and some lower-income countries, can meet these goals within their current budgets — if they invest in appropriate priorities.