Geneva, Switzerland, 21 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO) - During a side event at the 72nd World Health Assembly, high-level authorities of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), ministers of health, and representatives of other international agencies discussed universal health and shared experiences with their progress in achieving health for all by 2030.

“Universal health coverage is a human rights issue and at the same time constitutes a means for development,” said the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “No one should fall into poverty due to poor health. Let’s build a healthier future together.”

Dr. Tedros noted the important role of the UHC Partnership and expressed appreciation for its flexibility when promoting universal health at the country level. The partnership, which is funded by WHO, the European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, France, Japan, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and Ireland’s official development cooperation program, Irish Aid, provides support in 66 countries of the world.

Colombia’s Minister of Health, Juan Pablo Uribe, said that “Colombia has made a great deal of progress in health coverage,” explaining that “the country went from 25% coverage 25 years ago to nearly 95% effective coverage today.” Uribe referred to studies showing that one third of Colombians who have escaped poverty have done so as a result of the beneficial effects of health coverage.

Colombia’s Minister of Health, Juan Pablo Uribe

Uribe said the challenge ahead is how to get from 95% to 100% coverage. “That challenge involves understanding the country’s diversity, and applying flexible models that differ from the insurance that operates in large and medium-sized cities, which is where we are now.”

Dr. Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, said that the Fund invests more than one billion dollars per year in health systems strengthening. “Looking ahead, we are going to put even more emphasis on integrated, patient-centered health packages.” 

At the close of the event, PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne asserted that “coverage without access to health is not enough” and that there is no single formula that can be applied to all countries to achieve universal health. She emphasized that political commitment should result in concrete actions.

Dr. Etienne also asked the health authorities of the countries to not be content with a basic package of services. “We must reduce inequities and barriers to access, and need a new primary care-based health model that should be comprehensive, not just curative.” She called for investing more resources to support that commitment.

The PAHO Director said that the Region of the Americas is already moving in that direction. Last April, the High-level Commission on “Universal Health in the 21st Century: 40 years of Alma-Ata” presented a report with 10 recommendations. Also, PAHO invited its Member States, academia, and civil society to join PHC 30-30-30, the Regional Compact on Primary Health Care for Universal Health, which sets goals to eliminate barriers to health access and increase funding by 30% for primary care by 2030.

High-level health authorities from Estonia, India, Kenya, Philippines, and Japan, and other countries also participated on the panel.

Watch a video of the session in this link