The health of all people in the world, be it the poor or rich, young or old, is so important that nobody should be denied access to health because of who they are.
It for this reason that on December 12 each year, the world observes the International Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day. The day aims at raising awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with multi-stakeholder partners.
Universal Health Coverage basically means: “For all people to have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.” The definition covers the full continuum of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
Considering the importance of UHC, the United Nations recognises access to quality healthcare as a human a right. This probably explains why quality healthcare for all has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals 3 (SDGs), target 3.8.
Equitable health coverage puts women, children, adolescents and the most vulnerable first because they face the most significant barriers to essential care.
Even though access to health is a right, unfortunately, some have been denied this basic right because of financial hardships, unavailability of health facilities or lack of qualified personnel, infrastructure and medications where the facilities are available.
The African situation
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of the people in the world do not receive the health services they need.
The WHO further estimates that about 100 million people out of which 11million are Africans are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket spending on health.
In Africa, for instance, 60 to 70 per cent of health expenditure is covered directly by households, compared to a global average of 32 per cent.
It must be mentioned that in Africa, only Rwanda has reached the target of spending 15 per cent of its budget on the health sector.
Women, children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups are the first victims of the weaknesses of health systems. Besides the high morbidity due to lack of access to health care, these difficulties cost Africa more than US$ 2400 billion every year.
What must be done?
Many are those who have been turned away from health facilities in Ghana and by extension Africa due to their inability to pay for healthcare services while many others, who for lack of health facilities in their communities, are unable to access health care.
It is for this reason that Speak Up Africa, a Dakar based civil society organisation, has been promoting UHC in Africa to ensure that all African nationals have access to quality healthcare in their respective communities and countries.
Mr Mouhamadou Dieng, who works as the Policy and Research Manager at Speak Up Africa, shares some light on what African countries could do to achieve UHC as well as what to do to avoid challenges impeding the efforts to achieve such feat.
He said even though herculean, it was still possible to achieve UHC in Africa, urging African leaders to prioritise investment in the healthcare sector.
For him, prioritising investment in the health sector is one of the most important things to do to achieve UHC in Africa, calling on African countries to develop models that will help them to achieve UHC.
“We need to have development models centered around human beings, which means that our governments should invest more in social sectors such as healthcare, education, these two domains will bring us to the UHC,” Mr. Dieng explained.
On the issues of huge inequalities affecting the achievement of UHC, the Policy Analyst expressed a differing view, saying:
“In my opinion it's possible to achieve UHC even if the gap of inequalities of development is huge, because there is a high level of investment in innovation into the health sector. Those innovations will be cost effective, they will help reduce the price of primary health care which will allow UHC to be attained.”
Mr. Dieng, however, was quick to add that the main obstacle to achieving UHC in African countries was the “lack of vision of our governments especially in the healthcare sector.”
He was of the view that to achieve UHC, infrastructure, policies and investments in the healthcare domain must be aligned.
He said as a first step towards achieving universal health coverage in Africa, countries have to start by reforming their social systems.
“We have to reform the health structures, we have to reform the educational system in the STEM fields,” he noted.
Mr. Dieng has, therefore, called on the youth to play an active role in their respective communities and countries to help them to achieve universal health coverage.
“Young people must have the courage and will to study and innovate in the health field. We must also bring our leaders to make the necessary decisions by integrating the decision-making instances and advocating at all levels for changes,” he said.
He also called on civil society organisations to continue to hold duty bearers to task in order for them to respond to the health needs of their people.
“In the various NEPAD agreements that our leaders have signed, civil society has the responsibility to ask our leaders where they stand on their agreements,” Mr. Dieng stated, adding “the CSOs must deliver the message to the communities, they must submit the requests and issues of the communities to the leaders.”
He pledged the commitment of Speak Up Africa to continue to advocate for investment and reforms in the healthcare sector in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan region.
Improve primary healthcare
For his part, the Communications Officer for Yebi Ma Africa, a health NGO in Ghana, Mr. Ernest Dovlo, called on the Ghanaian government to improve primary healthcare services.
He said everyone deserves a good healthcare service, stressing that the government should invest more into the primary healthcare sector.
“We should create an atmosphere where people can easily access quality healthcare services no matter their social standing and financial status”, he noted.
Mr. Dovlo added that people should not die or have their health worsened because of the unavailability of a doctor, a health facility or a drug where they live.
He commended the Ghanaian government for its initiatives to build more CHPs Compounds as well as including more diseases on the country’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS programme.