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The Director's Corner

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Universal health coverage is unobtainable until inequalities around accessing healthcare services are addressed.

A message from José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union, on World Health Day

Saturday 7 April 2018 is World Health Day, which calls for universal health coverage, for everyone, everywhere.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half the world lacks access to essential healthcare services and 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because of debilitating healthcare costs. The aim of the campaign for World Health Day is to extend healthcare access to 1 billion more people by 2023.

This is a fundamental goal that must be delivered. All people should be able to achieve good health and find treatment and care when they need it. We all have a role to play in creating the environment in which health can flourish but it is the ultimate responsibility of every country and their governments to create workable systems and approaches to deliver it. Let us be clear - universal health coverage is a basic human right. But it is only attainable when inequalities around access to healthcare services are addressed.

By access to health, we mean the availability of quality, functional healthcare services that are within reach of those who need them and provide a level of service delivery, from conducive opening hours to trained staff. We also mean affordability. Being poor should not mean healthcare is out of reach. Good treatment and healthcare should be achievable without plunging people into debt or hardship. The costs to physically reach a health centre or treatment post should not make the journey to get treatment impossible.

There are other social and cultural concerns that prevent accessing care services, such as issues of stigma where people are discouraged from seeking help for fear they – and their families - are discriminated against. And healthcare services make decisions and choices on who and what to treat every single day. What price equal access rights when these wider social determinants of health are at work?

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO, has said, “For me, the key question of universal health coverage is an ethical one. Do we want our fellow citizens to die because they are poor? Or millions of families impoverished by catastrophic health expenditures because they lack financial risk protection? Universal health coverage is a human right.”

Last week registration opened for the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health that, this year, will be held in The Hague. As the city of peace and justice and with a strong record in upholding human rights law, The Hague provides a unique environment to link science, human rights and policy in the design of public health responses.

The conference theme, Declaring Our Rights: Social and Political Solutions, highlights that eliminating tuberculosis, tackling lung health issues and achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals requires a coordinated public health response that is driven by the human rights of every individual. Core to this conference will be the concept that people everywhere have the right to health – and this means enabling worldwide access to prevention, treatment and care. We urge you to join us, contribute your ideas and make your voice heard in this critical debate.


Figures quoted courtesy of Tracking universal health coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report, WHO, December 2017