NHSs for all? Why universal health coverage is key to improving health worldwide

The UN is in the motions of pushing for a global incarnation of universal health care and has the potential to rewrite the global framework for poverty.

Martin Drewry is the director of Health Poverty Action

Paying to see your doctor is an alien concept if you have grown up in the UK, but every year hundreds of thousands of people around the world die because they can’t afford the fees they have to pay for medical care, and millions more are pushed into poverty when they do pay.

Yesterday, a potential solution was discussed at the United Nations, with member states voting on a resolution for universal health coverage; stating all countries need to ensure everyone has access to health services regardless of wealth, the resolution is backed by the UK and 55 other countries including the United States.

Worldwide, eight hundred women die in childbirth daily, and each year almost four million babies die within a month of being born. Ensuring good health and wellbeing goes much further than providing health services, but the cycle of poverty and poor health is vicious, and many experts consider free health care a vital step towards breaking it.

Every human being has the right to the best standard of health possible. The UN resolution is a vital step towards this and is a feat for advocates of health for all. But for healthcare to be made available to everyone around the world regardless of income, it is essential universal health coverage is also included in the new framework for ending poverty after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

International development has been geared towards the Millennium Development Goals for 15 years, and as we near the end of the time-frame, world leaders are considering what to do next. The new development framework will lay the foundations for poverty reduction for the foreseeable future, and is likely to be one of the most influential pieces of work on development in our lifetimes.

Determining priorities for governments and NGOs, it will have a real and direct impact on the lives of billions of people.

UN general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, has appointed David Cameron and the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia to research into, and advise him, on the new framework. If these leaders advocate health services that are financed through taxation, social insurance or a combination of the two, rather than up-front fees, millions of lives could be saved and the world will be a step closer to ending the vicious cycle of poverty and ill health.

A petition urging David Cameron and the other leaders to support universal health coverage is gathering names; we urge you to add yours to the list.

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