New Delhi: The world has been observing the 12th of December as Universal Health Coverage Day since 2017 to serve as a reminder that everyone, regardless of income or social standing, should have access to high-quality healthcare. Working in silos when it comes to health is no longer an option, as the epidemic forced the globe to know. Thus, the clarion call for securing UHC serves as a focal point to encourage governments and nations to make wiser investments in health and to remind people around the world of the necessity of having universal health coverage (UHC).
On December 12, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on universal health coverage (UHC) and urged its members to secure and speed up progress toward universal access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. The purpose of UHC Day is to spread awareness and emphasise the value of inclusive and robust healthcare infrastructures.
It was during COVID-19 that the world came to witness everyone's health is essential for a bright future, and it cannot be compromised in the pursuit of economic success. The foundation of UHC is equitable health coverage, which prioritises women, children, the disabled, and the poor because they are the most vulnerable group and encounter the greatest obstacles in accessing healthcare and basic necessities. In light of the pandemic's effects, there is an urgent need to guarantee UHC for everyone. Covid19 has starkly increased the health gap and highlighted the infrastructure's flaws, therefore it is past due that health and UHC be included as a key element of post-Covid recovery plans.
The Indian government did not wait for the pandemic to comprehend the importance of sound health infrastructures and UHC. With the launch of the Ayushman Bharat the government has already taken the much - needed step towards UHC in 2018, further improvements like Ayushman Digital Mission and PM Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission are ensuring that digital technology makes health infrastructure accessible and gaps in healthcare are recognised and addressed respectively.
No doubt the transformation of 1.5 lakh sub-centres and primary health centres to Health & Wellness Centres will provide an enormous boost to health infrastructure in the country and lessen the strain on the existing health system however the government needs to ensure that the Health & Wellness Centres are sustained through better facilities, infrastructural upgradation, transparency and accountability. When it comes to PMJAY, which aims to cater to 10 crore poor families with 50 crore beneficiaries for secondary and tertiary care, it is imperative that we include palliative care in the larger scheme of things.
The private sector is a major stakeholder in the healthcare sector in the country and the present regime has rightly gauged the significant role that it can play in gearing up of health infrastructures in the country and the progression towards UHC. As witnessed during the pandemic the private sector in collaboration with the government can prove to be a game changer as far as the health sector is concerned.
Private sector players offer great potential in addressing the gaps and barriers in healthcare right from creating a skilled healthcare workforce to providing innovative solutions to healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies, Research institutes, digital health IT, insurance, health analytics, civil society, NGOs and education technology organisations could work hand-in-hand with the government to bridge the current gap of workforce availability and capacity building.
The concept of UHC encompasses that all citizens are entitled to quality health care from prevention to promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation - without financial the strain of economic hardship. The concept has three important cornerstones access, quality, and financial protection and not surprisingly private sector forms an important chunk of all three of them.
Fruitful partnerships with all relevant stakeholders are the way forward, that can keep check on Out -of- Pocket expenses (OOP) and drive families out of this vicious circle of poverty and dearth. In the Indian context, the maximum OOP is spent on out-patient consultations as well as screenings and diagnostic tests, hence the focus of PMJAY needs to shift from in-patient care and hospitalisation towards out-patient care, to bring down catastrophic health expenditure. This will also ensure the much-needed shift from curative healthcare to a preventive one as well as early detection of many NCD's.
In keeping with the theme of Universal Health Coverage Day this year "Build the world we want: A healthy future for all" and enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, UHC includes a full range of essential health services from health promotion and awareness to prevention and treatment. The very essence of the concept depends on leaving no on behind as non - the availability of quality healthcare anywhere is a threat to human health everywhere, as seen during the pandemic. Universal Health Coverage can contribute significantly in lifting people out of the cycle of poverty, deprivation, promote physical and mental health wellbeing of individuals, families and societies and nations.
Strong health systems need to be built on inclusiveness and mutual trust among all stakeholders while initiating sustainable action at the global level for a better environment, investment and accountability. With rapid digitalisation and economic progress countries are rapidly revamping and prioritising health structures however the transition should be an enabler of patient-centric, equitable and accessible health coverage for all sans the burden of out-of-pocket expenses that precede quality healthcare.
The economic and social repercussions of UHC can go a long way in tackling the issues of human rights, and economic development and empowering the population, at large. The attainment of all other Sustainable Development Goals is invariably linked to Universal Health Coverage and the long-term and sustainable progress of any nation is hugely dependent on the health and well-being of its citizens, the path to which is linked to the realisation of UHC.