Address by the Regional Director on World Health Day 2019 – ‘Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere’

5 April 2019, New Delhi, India

H.E Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Science, Technology, Environment, Forest & Climate Change; Dr Vinod Paul, Member, Niti Ayog, Government of India; Ms Preeti Sudan, Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare; Dr Geeta Sen; Hon’ble Ambassadors, partners, civil society representatives, WHO colleagues from both the Regional and Country Office, ladies and gentlemen,

I wish you a very warm welcome.

It is a joy to see such a diverse community celebrate our joint commitment to improve people’s health on this, the World Health Organization’s birthday.

WHO’s founding Constitution was bold.

It defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”.

This assertion is reinforced today by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the goal “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”.

Distinguished guests,

Today we focus on ‘Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere’, and the critical role primary health care has in achieving it.

As previous speakers have emphasized, UHC’s promise is clear: for all people everywhere to get the health care they need, when and where they need it, without financial hardship.

It is about raising the bar for everyone and leaving no one behind.

UHC has been one of the WHO South-East Asia Region’s Flagship Priorities since 2014.

And there has been progress.

More people have access to essential health services.

The availability of health workers has improved Region-wide.

There is growing collaboration between countries to improve the availability of quality medicines – the South-East Asia Regulatory Network is one example.

But despite our achievements, major inequities remain.

Across our Region, some 800 million people still do not have full coverage of essential health services. At least 65 million are pushed into poverty because of health spending.

Progress must accelerate if we are to reach WHO’s commitment to have 1 billion more people benefit from health coverage by 2024.

This is where primary health care comes in.

Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for advancing UHC. Six months ago, the Astana Declaration on Primary Health Care recognized this.

In six months’ time, at the High-Level Meeting on UHC at the UN General Assembly in September, primary care will be a core part of the discussion.

The political momentum to accelerate towards UHC is indeed high. There are ways ahead and many opportunities to hasten progress.

First, frontline services must adapt to changing needs, including by providing life-long care for people with noncommunicable diseases and the health conditions that come with ageing populations. To do that, new service-delivery models are needed, as are appropriately skilled primary health workers.

This is happening in an increasing number of countries. Importantly, we must ensure that enhanced quality goes hand in hand with increased access: Improving access to poor quality services is by any standard wasteful.

Second, frontline and hospital services should be addressed together, to increase the use of primary care and decrease overcrowding in hospitals.

Third, new approaches must be found to engage private practitioners and harness this sector’s extensive assets.

Fourth, fresh approaches to community engagement are needed. The rapid increase in access to information via digital technologies means individuals and communities are increasingly well-informed on health issues. These technologies can be leveraged to empower people to look after their own health.

And fifth, measuring results and enhancing accountability must be a priority. This may involve making information on health care entitlements and health systems’ performance more public. It may also mean creating institutions to handle ‘remedy and redress’ that are open to all, including those that are prone to being left behind.

We all have a role to play, whether you are a policymaker, facility manager, academic, parliamentarian, NGO or development agency worker.

Indeed, we all have a role in protecting and improving health within our families and communities.

As we celebrate today, we should find strength in the knowledge that we are part of a global movement united by a commitment to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health, and that recognizes UHC as the most powerful means to do that.

With that strength we must all continue to work towards UHC, in whatever capacity we can, until we achieve our goal and ensure all people everywhere can access the health care they need, when and where they need it, without financial hardship.

I wish you an inspiring World Health Day.