Universal health coverage gains momentum in 2016

Measure-what-matters

WHO definition: Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means everyone can access the quality health services they need without financial hardship.

This year it seems that organisations, governments and citizens everywhere are answering the call to UHC, whose annual awareness day is December 12th.

From this year forward, UHC is seen as central to improving health systems, improving economies, and ensuring global health security. The G7 group countries, the primary source of funding for Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC), met in Ise-Shima Japan 2016 and made UHC their umbrella concept. Through this, they seek to improve health systems and global health security.  Of the 17 SDGs agreed by the United Nations, just one is directly health-related but it is “achieving UHC”.

Judith Rodin, (President Rockefeller Foundation, has observed that “25 of the wealthiest nations all have some form of universal coverage, as do some middle-income countries including Brazil, Mexico and Thailand and lower-income nations, such as Ghana, the Philippines, Rwanda and Viet Nam, are working towards achieving UHC.”

Rather than talk about why we need UHC, I thought I’d talk  about what is actually proposed by middle-income and lower-income countries (LMIC) to fulfil UHC and what the NGOs, donors and global health community championing UHC would like it to encompass.

What is UHC?

UHC systems vary from country to country: there is no one size fits all.  It very much depends on the minimum health outcomes a government wants to achieve and how much of its GDP it is prepared to spend. The main variables being the level of care delivered, who delivers it, who receives it and how it is funded. 

UHC of itself does not mean universal access to health services nor care for all diseases. It’s about providing a basic level of health services (“Essential Packages of Health Services”) to as much of the population as possible.

The first UHC system was the UK’s National Health Service set up in 1948.

The USA has a non-universal system of health coverage.

What do LMIC see it as?

Over time,  as far as I can see, these basics for a cost-effective UHC have emerged:

  • government regulation, legislation and taxation
  • primary health care
  • vaccination programmes for children (for LMIC this is organised through GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance)
  • maternal healthcare (pregnancy)
  • health insurance to finance (public tax, private insurance or a mix of both)
  • financial protection: pooled funds to reduce out of pocket payments amongst the poorest and vulnerable  

Much of the information that now follows is derived from  the RSTMH 2016 Chadwick memorial lecture "Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Time of Blue Marble Health and the Anthropocene Epoch", given by  Professor Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. 

 

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The recognition of Mycetoma: much needed attention finally given to long neglected tropical disease (NTD)

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Image: Woman in the West Indies with mycetoma caused by a fungal organism
CDC/ Dr. Lucille K. Georg

From Harpur Schwartz, an economics/global health student from Connecticut College, USA,  interning with Cabi’s Global Health team.

While tuning in to the live broadcast of the Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly taking place at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, mycetoma reached the discussion floor. At the risk of sounding naïve, I’m going to tell you that I had never heard of mycetoma – although a quick google search revealed images resembling elephantiasis. As a student studying global health, I was a little disappointed with myself; I mean I have at least heard of the other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). But if mycetoma was unfamiliar to me, how many other people had never heard of this disease? I have provided answers to some basic questions I had about mycetoma in case you too are unfamiliar with this disease…

What is mycetoma?

The World health Organization describes mycetoma as, “… a chronic, progressively destructive morbid inflammatory disease usually of the foot but any part of the body can be affected”. This disease is caused by a bacterial (actinomycetoma) or fungal (eumycetoma) infection where the organism enters the body through a minor trauma or a penetrating injury (i.e. commonly a thorn prick). It is believed that the infection enters the body after this pricking occurs, but there are no concrete studies determining transmission. A good video on it can be found here in Global Health Now's Spotlight on Mycetoma by Amy Maxmen.

Is there a cure?

In terms of treatment, curing actinomycetoma using antibiotics has about a 90% success rate. The use of antifungals to treat eumycetoma has a success rate of about 35%, but in 2016 a new antifungal agent, fosravuconazole, will be the subject of the First Clinical Trial in Mycetoma conducted by Drugs for Neglected Diseases Institute (DNDi). Because the disease takes a slow, relatively pain-free progression, mycetoma is at its most advanced stages once it is diagnosed. It is at these later stages when amputation becomes necessary.

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The sugar industry and the World Health Organization – still at odds

Pixabay_crystalI recently attended the International Sugar Organization’s annual conference in London, hoping to hear Dr. Francesco Branca of the World Health Organization explaining the rationale for the WHO’s recommendations on how much sugar people should eat, and see what response he got from the assembled sugar industry representatives and how he responded to that. As a reasonably independent observer (CABI publishes Sugar Industry Abstracts, but does much work on nutrition and health as well) I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t turn up due to other commitments, and sent a video presentation instead.

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