A recent report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that at least half of the world’s population lacks access to ‘essential health services’. These include vital vaccinations for babies and children, medication for chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and maternal healthcare. In 2015, 193 member states of the UN passed a resolution outlining the Sustainable Development Goals and set 2030 as the deadline for their achievement. Goal 3.8 was to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The WHO describes UHC as the ability for individuals to ‘receive health services when and where they are needed, without facing financial hardship’. This means that every individual should have access to quality health care facilities staffed by well-trained medical professionals and receive timely and effective diagnosis and treatment that will improve their quality of life. This is all without placing individuals and families at risk of poverty to fund their care. Currently over 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets to pay for health care, and about 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty due to their health expenditures. In many developed nations, the costs of long-term residential care for the elderly place similar burdens on individuals and their families.
There are many barriers to the achievement of UHC. Access to health services in poorer countries is limited by geography and infrastructure, including a lack of transport and sparsity of hospitals and clinics. This, alongside high medical costs and a lack of education, prevent many from accessing healthcare, and even when they do, many facilities do not have the equipment or capacity to provide good quality care for the population. Many governments are failing to invest adequately in their health infrastructure, and health inequality has been increasing, undermining the suggestion that overall healthcare provision is improving based on national averages. A lack of data on healthcare provision and equity makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem in many nations.
There has been increasing demand for UHC because of the realisation of the central importance good public health has on the economic prosperity of the nation, as well as the education and living standards of citizens. However, opinions on how UHC should be achieved, and who should be responsible for investing in healthcare, are divided. The committee should try to reach a consensus on these issues.