Address by the Regional Director - UHC in Least Developed Countries: A time for Accelerated Action

23 September 2019, UNHQ, New York

Honorable representatives, distinguished participants and partners, ladies and gentlemen,

Universal health coverage makes a bold promise: for all people everywhere to access the health services they need, without financial hardship.

People in LDCs face several barriers to accessing quality services. As this event highlights, we must leverage opportunities to discuss those barriers and find solutions, including by sharing best practices.

Distinguished participants,

In 2014 the WHO South-East Asia Region made pursuing UHC a Flagship Priority.

We have made strong gains, as outlined in a progress report released earlier this month.

The coverage of essential services has improved to 61% from 46% in 2010. The density of health workers has increased from 21.5 per 10 000 people in 2014 to 27.1 in 2017.

Unprecedented attention is now being paid to improving access to essential medicines, with growing collaboration between countries to enhance quality.

The health benefits for people in the Region’s LDCs has been immense. So too will be the economic benefits, with reduced morbidity and mortality increasing workforce participation and productivity.

In contributing to this progress, our Region’s LDCs have pursued several innovative initiatives.

Timor Leste’s Saúde Na Família, for example, is a family-based domiciliary visit programme to increase access to health services in remote areas.

Nepal’s Physician Stewardship Champion Programme takes a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to addressing AMR in surgical infections. The programme highlights the importance of educational efforts and physician champions, as well as post-prescription review and feedback.

Bhutan has made full use of the WHO-PEN – a package of essential NCD interventions that are cost effective and increase the quality of care in resource-poor settings.

WHO has been proud to support these and other endeavors, in addition to our work to pool the Region’s resources to the benefit of LDCs.

A good example of that is the WHO-supported South-East Asia Regulatory Network. The SEARN provides a platform for countries to share information on the quality and safety of medical products, including medicines and diagnostics, thereby increasing access to them.

This is especially valuable to LDCs, whose regulatory agencies have in the past been overburdened, and who have therefore struggled to provide access to medical products that are safe and of good quality. Just three years in, the SEARN continues to go from strength to strength, with a digital information sharing platform launched late last year.

Another example is the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergencies Fund. While the SEARHEF has traditionally pooled contributions from Member States which are then rapidly released in the event of an emergency, it has now introduced a funding stream for preparedness.

The preparedness stream will help LDCs fortify their health systems before an acute event happens, ensuring that access to health care is maintained throughout an emergency. Though it has been said many times, allow me to reiterate: UHC and health security are two sides of the same coin.

Finally, we are also working as a Region – and with the Western Pacific Region – to enhance capacity on strategic purchasing, with a focus on sharing best practices. Though all countries need to increase the amount they spend on health, they must also spend that amount wisely, ensuring it achieves maximum impact.

At our bi-annual health financing workshops, LDCs have an opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another as they define the mix and volume of services a health system requires.

Representatives, distinguished participants,

The WHO South-East Asia Region is committed to sustaining and accelerating its progress towards UHC, and to harnessing the full power of innovation in doing so.

We have pursued this goal as Flagship Priority since 2014 and will be pursuing it until we reach the 2030 SDG target.

I thank you for your support and reiterate WHO’s commitment to working with all countries in the Region, including LDCs, as together we strive to leave no one behind and ensure the highest attainable standard of health for all.

I once again thank the organizers of this event and appreciate Nepal’s leadership within our Region.

Thank you.