Nepal | January 18, 2021

Right to health: Advancing universal health coverage

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Now is the time to strengthen local health systems by establishing a multi-stakeholder mechanism for engaging the whole of society for healthier communities. If we intend to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage, we need to address the health of poor and most vulnerable populations for an inclusive society

Health is a fundamental human right. In the recent years, good health is increasingly considered as an important agenda for sustainable development.

Therefore, access to essential health-care services is crucial for the health and well-being of people around the world.

Despite significant health gains over the past decades, the increasing risks of COVID-19 have adverse impacts on health systems to provide timely diagnostic and treatment services in the health facilities.

More investments in building resilient health systems are needed to ensure health rights of people across the country.

In Nepal, there are critical needs for effective measures to reduce maternal, neonatal, infant and child mortality and morbidity, and increase access to quality health-care services for newborns, infants, children as well as all women before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth, including sexual and reproductive health.

In this context, we have an important opportunity to call for strong and equitable health systems that leave no one behind. Universal health coverage (UHC) simply means that all people have access, without discrimination, to nationally determined sets of the needed promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative essential health services.

Therefore, the global community is now calling on leaders to keep the promise of health for all.

While we commit to achieve the UHC for healthy lives and well-being for all, we need to ensure equity in quality health services at all levels.

That is why, we need to create a strong regulatory and legal environment that is responsive to health care needs and priorities of local communities.

Now is the time to strengthen local health systems by establishing a multi-stakeholder mechanism for engaging the whole of society for healthier communities.

More efforts are still needed to garner financial and political commitments from countries and sustain health investments.

If we intend to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage, we need to address the health of poor and most vulnerable populations for an inclusive society.

More specifically, the new national health policy has timely articulated the emerging needs of improving access to quality health care services for those who are poor, vulnerable and socially marginalised in the communities. For the first time, the health policy has considerably included migrant health issues in its strategic actions to address the health care needs of migrants and their families.

In the context of federal governance, the national health system can also speed up its own decentralisation process and hence reduce the existing social and economic disparities in access to and utilisation of health services across the country. The new role of local governments in defining, prioritising and managing health care services is important to address the health care needs of poor and vulnerable groups.

Besides, community participation is one of the core components of primary health care services in terms of empowering the people to improve and protect their own health. The role of female community health volunteers, civil society organisations, private sector and development partners is crucial to reach out to the communities where primary health care services are still limited.

Empowering health workers, community groups and health management committees to reach out to the communities with essential health care services is an effective strategy to ensure health for all.

However, local governments have new responsibilities of planning and managing health facilities to ensure local people have easy access to quality health care services in the health facilities. In order to promote universal health coverage, one of the major challenges is to ensure adequate human resources, good physical infrastructure, regular supplies of essential drugs and enhancing civic engagement in health for more responsive and accountable local governments.

Undoubtedly, local governments need more efforts to strengthen health systems by collaborating with other sectors such as civil society, private sectors, media, community leaders and health facility management committees. In most cases, local governments are still facing the challenges of limited technical capacity and resources. This is why more support from the federal and provincial government is needed to make local governments more accountable for equitable health services, In addition, the increasing number of complex emergencies are other challenges to achieving universal health coverage.

Therefore, coherent and inclusive approaches are essential to address the needs of people who are affected by disasters and other humanitarian crises.

Hence, a multi-sectoral approach is essential to promote an active and healthy lifestyle, including physical activity for the benefit of all people throughout their life course to ensure a world free from malnutrition in all its forms. Despite some progress on nutrition sensitive interventions, malnutrition among children is still a serious public health problem in many developing countries.

To conclude, universal health coverage is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related not only to health and well-being, but also to eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions by ensuring quality education, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

We now need to raise awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with a range of partners for their collective actions.

Bhandari is a senior research fellow in global health systems



A version of this article appears in print on November 26, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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