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September 20, 2019 (WHO/PAHO)-On 23 September 2019, the United Nations General Assembly will stage the High-level Meeting on “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World”. This meeting will mobilize political support at the highest-level to ensure that all people receive the health care and protection they need. The delegation from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) will be led by PAHO Director, Dr Carissa F. Etienne, and will contribute the vast experience of the organization in working towards universal health in the Region.

“Not only does PAHO advocate for the principle of universal health coverage, but we also call for concrete policy development and implementation to break down the persistent barriers that prevent people from receiving access to comprehensive health care,” said Dr. Etienne.

In 2014, the Americas adopted a resolution to advance towards universal access to health and universal health coverage. The strategy addresses the inequities in access to health systems and services that prevent people from enjoying optimal health. 

Currently, it is estimated that 30% of the population of the Americas lacks access to the health care they need. The barriers that prevent such access include financial, geographical, institutional, social and cultural barriers, which constitute the main impediments to equity, health and development in the 21st Century. Public expenditure in health is on average, countries of the Region invest 4.2% of  Gross Domestic Product (GDP), less than the 6% minimum recommended by the PAHO. 

In 2017, PAHO created the High-level Commission “Universal Health in the XXI Century: 40 years of Alma-Ata,” chaired by Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, and Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of Americas States (OAS), Nestor Mendez. The Commission prepared a report that emphasizes that achieving Health for All will only be possible by ensuring the right to health, models of care that are based on Primary Health Care (PHC), effective financing, multisectoral collaboration, social participation, and eliminating barriers to access.

In April this year, Dr Etienne launched the Regional Compact on Primary Health Care for Universal Health: PHC 30-30-30, alongside the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel Lopez-Obrador, in Mexico City. This Compact calls on the transformation of health systems based on PHC, establishes goals to eliminate barriers to health that impedes  access to health, and to increase funding by 30% to the first level of care,  by 2030.

The 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly will open on 17 September 2019 at the UN Headquarters in New York. 

Universal access to health and universal health coverage imply that all people and communities have access, without any kind of discrimination, to comprehensive, appropriate and timely, quality health services determined at the national level according to needs, as well as access to safe, effective, and affordable quality medicines, while ensuring that the use of such services does not expose users to financial difficulties, especially groups in conditions of vulnerability.


UN High-level
PAHO: Universal health