One billion people lack basic health care. Approximately 150 million of the people who do use health services are forced into debt each year, and another 100 million are pushed below the poverty line because of health care expenses. Without good health people cannot reach their full human potential and their country’s economy cannot grow.
Two years ago, on 12 December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution “Global health and foreign policy” that emphasises health as an essential element of international development. The goal of universal health coverage is to ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.
Access to health services enables people to be more productive and active contributors to their families and communities. It also ensures that children can go to school and learn. Universal health coverage, therefore, is a critical component of sustainable development and poverty reduction, and a key element of any effort to reduce social inequities.
According to WHO:
- Universal health coverage is not just health financing, it should cover all components of the health system to be successful: health service delivery systems, health workforce, health facilities or communications networks, health technologies, information systems, quality assurance mechanisms, governance and legislation.
- Universal health coverage is not only about assuring a minimum package of health care, but also about assuring a progressive expansion of coverage of health services and financial risk protection as more resources become available.
- Universal health coverage does not mean free coverage for all possible health interventions, regardless of the cost, as no country can provide all services free of charge on a sustainable basis.
- Universal health coverage requires taking steps towards equity, development priorities, social inclusion and cohesion.
For many years, Caritas and other Catholic Church-inspired organisations have delivered health care to people who need it in both emergency and day-to-day situations, building the capacities of local communities to prevent the onset of illness and provide medicines and other life-saving supplies for treatment programmes. Since 1987, Caritas has prioritised efforts in response to the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. Also, Caritas works on tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, influenza pandemic and Ebola.
On occasion of Universal health coverage day, Caritas wants to reaffirm the call for more attention to health as an important cross-cutting policy issue in the international agenda: health is a precondition, an outcome and an indicator of sustainable development. We urge governments to move towards providing all people with access to affordable, quality health-care care; and recognise the role of health in achieving international development goals.
On this occasion, we insist that universal access to health involves much more than bio-medical care. We must attend to the social, emotional and spiritual needs of all those facing health challenges. In this regard, let’s recall the words of Pope Francis: “The credibility of a health care system is not measured only by efficiency but above all by the care and love of persons, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”
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