Kathmandu, September 11
With nearly 400 million people still deprived of essential health services globally, the World Health Organisation has called on countries, including Nepal, in South-East Asia Region to focus efforts on providing affordable and quality health services to all.
“Health is critical to development. Access to safe, affordable and good quality health services enables people to be more productive and active contributors to their families, communities and nations,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said at the WHO Regional Committee meeting held in Dili, East Timor.
Making effective healthcare services accessible to people, wherever they live, and whether they are rich or poor, is a must. It makes commitments to a fairer society real, and facilitate sustainable development, she said.
Universal health coverage figured prominently at the five-day regional committee meeting from 7 to 11 September. The meeting was attended by health ministers and high-level ministerial delegations from all 11 countries of WHO South-East Asia Region.
WHO emphasised that action for UHC needs to take into account the changing health needs. With the increase in non-communicable diseases and the rise in numbers of the elderly, often with multiple health conditions, a new thinking is needed on ways to deliver health services.
“We need to learn more about new service delivery models that aim to give people access to the care they need, when they need it, without suffering financial hardship. The question is how well they are working,” said Dr Khetrapal Singh.
The ways to achieve UHC are becoming clearer. The number of poor people paying out of their own pocket for care when they are sick needs to be reduced as this increases their hardship.
Governments need to invest more into strengthening their health workforce which is key to expanding quality health services. And improved delivery of services needs to happen in parallel with improved financing if real progress on UHC is to be made, Dr Khetrapal Singh said. Patient safety is another area central to advancing UHC.
Universal health coverage is the hallmark of a government’s commitment to improving the well-being of all its citizens. Progress towards UHC will be gradual, but it is possible from anywhere. Though countries in the region have been making efforts, more needs to be done, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
A version of this article appears in print on September 10, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.