Governments must get serious about universal healthcare
Global health is an issue of great concern on World Health Day which falls every year on April 7. The coronavirus crisis has brought systemic deficiencies to the fore. There is fear about what will happen next after this disease caught us napping four months ago. Countries had invested little in health systems prior to this crisis and many are paying the price for their lackadaisical response and complacency. This coronavirus has made us take a closer look at ourselves and our health. It has made us introspect and take decisions for the welfare of the masses. Who knows, it may make us stronger, resilient and more resourceful than ever. It will provide us insights while we come up with solutions. The battle must be fought from these small health centres and clinics. This is a community effort that involves us all. In a not-so-distant era, there were family doctors and clinics that served as the first line of defence against any infectious disease. Not anymore. They were part of our inner circle and knew the health conditions of every member of the family. Health systems these days have been corporatised and lack the human touch. Many are beyond the reach of the poor. Universal health coverage remains an ideal, a hope. Currently, only those who have the financial clout get the best medical treatment. This must end. This crisis we hope, will open our eyes and make us work together towards a health system for every human on the planet. The modern health system is flawed and driven by the insurance sector. Needless tests are the norm in the rush for profits. Perhaps, this coronavirus crisis will start a conversation among health policy-makers in governments to rethink how countries should deal with diseases at the local, primary level.
It's a bottom-up approach that can yield many benefits if done right and systematically. It calls for a global strategy and will and the right men and women to lead the charge. The World Health Organization recommends that countries set aside 1 per cent of their GDP for primary health. Yes, governments must remain in charge and not outsource health to corporations. This means regulating Big Pharma and ensuring they work towards larger health goals like making medicines affordable, reaching the last person in remote areas, and setting up small clinics, and mobile health centres. The role of the WHO has come under scrutiny during these difficult times but what its chief says should be a wake-up call to all governments. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has faced flak from some quarters on his handling of this coronavirus crisis but his statement on basic health care should be taken seriously. "If we are really serious about achieving universal health coverage and improving people's lives, we must get serious about primary health care. That means providing essential services like immunisation, antenatal care, health lifestyle advice - and making sure people do not have to pay for this out of their own pockets." Are governments listening?