The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the WHO Country Office organized a breakfast meeting to mark the World Health Day on 7 April which this year falls under the theme “Universal Health Coverage, everyone, everywhere” and the slogan of “Health for All”. The objective of the meeting was to create awareness and understanding about Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the objectives of the World Health Day 2018 among partners and stakeholders in health and the media. Specifically, the meeting was convened to give an opportunity to the Ministry of Health to share the national vision, strategies and experiences in moving towards Universal Health Coverage and to provide a forum for policy dialogue on advancing UHC in the country. It also gave an opportunity for the media to understand the key messages on UHC in order to effectively inform and educate the general public and also to stimulate public interest and discussion through various media channels.
Speaking at the meeting, the Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya said that the concept of health for all was aligned with Zambia’s long term goal of becoming a “prosperous middle-income country by 2030” as stipulated in its Vision 2030. He said that achieving vision 2030 was only possible by first transforming the country into a nation of healthy and productive people. The Minister said that it was for this reason that the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) through the Ministry of Health had continued to prioritize health service provision as a pathway to achieving this. He added that the UHC agenda in Zambia was therefore to ensure that all Zambians had the preventive, promotive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative health services without suffering financial hardship. “Cost must not be a barrier”, he said. The Minister also emphasized the fact that Zambia’s move towards UHC was anchored on the Primary Health Care approach and that public health specialists were placed in health facilities in order to ensure that health priorities of the communities such as HIV and AIDS, NCDS, malaria and reducing alcohol misuse were addressed. Dr. Chitalu also took this opportunity to announce that government was in the process of enacting the National Health Insurance law which would ensure that all Zambians have equitable access to health care without suffering financial cost. “We have a huge task to implement once the law is passed” he said.
The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita read the statement of the WHO Regional Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. In her statement, the Regional Director said that effective leadership and high-level political commitment were critical to achieving UHC. She said that health outcomes had improved in Africa due to better access to treatment and essential services. Dr. Moeti indicated that more than half of all people living with HIV in Africa (14 million) had access to life-saving HIV treatment, and that between 2010 and 2016, new cases of malaria dropped by 20% and there were 37% fewer deaths due to malaria. Another notable achievement she cited was that in 2012, Africa accounted for over 50% of polio cases globally and that since August 2016, the Region had not reported a case of wild poliovirus. However, Dr. Moeti said that much more needed to be done to curb the increase in non-communicable diseases, to address new threats such as SARS, H5N1, and to tackle epidemics like ebola and cholera. She also urged countries to ensure adequate and sustained investment in health in order to ensure equitable access to health services in line with the commitments they made when they agreed the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.
The Ministry of Health made a presentation on Universal Health Coverage which highlighted the key facets of UHC and Zambia’s experience after which a question and answer session was opened to allow the partners and stakeholders engage in a discussion on key policy issues. The Minister of Health and the WHO Representative provided guidance on many issues including the coming National Health Insurance law and WHO’s framework for implementing UHC at country level.
During the discussion on UHC, a representative of the Retirees Welfare Bureau of Zambia, Mr. Geoffrey Chiyesu expressed gratitude that government was committed to delivering better health services for all and by undertaking to pass a law on health insurance. He urged government to ensure that the National Ageing Policy was implemented fully and that the health needs of the older persons were comprehensively addressed through provision of appropriate and quality health services. He also welcomed the announcement by the Minister of Health, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya that the government was going to introduce a geriatric department in hospitals in order to carter for the unique and specific needs of the elderly.
In attendance at this meeting were the three permanent secretaries from the Ministry of Health and other senior officials and technical officers, representatives from government departments, hospitals, health institutions, and various partners in health, NGOs, academic institutions, UN Agencies, research institutions and the media.
According to the World Health Organization, half the world’s population is still unable to obtain the health services they need. So in this 70th anniversary year, WHO is calling on world leaders to live up to the pledges they made when they agreed the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, and commit to concrete steps to advance the health of all people. Universal Health Coverage means ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship. One of the targets under the Sustainable Development Goal No. 3: (“Ensuring Healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) is “Achieve Universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”