By Dr. Gundo Weiler
WHO Representative in the Philippines
Imagine if you had a heart attack, were injured in a car accident, had difficulty breathing, were pregnant, felt depressed, noticed a strange lump somewhere in your body, or all of a sudden could no longer see. Would you be able to get the health care you need?
In some Asian and Pacific countries, up to half of the people lack access to health services. This might be because health services are too far from their homes, or they lack qualified health workers, equipment or medications.This is unacceptable. Everyone, everywhere needs access to essential health services.
But access to services isn’t the only issue. The poorest Filipinos spend around 60 percent of their family’s income on food. With over half of health care costs paid out-of-pocket, they simply cannot afford to fall ill: money that is meant for food will be diverted to health. This, too, is unacceptable.
This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates its 70th anniversary by placing renewed emphasis on its founding mission—health as a fundamental human right. Health for all, also known as universal health coverage, means that everyone can access the health services they need, where and when they need them, without financial hardship.
Seven decades after our founding, we are returning to our core mission. Why? Despite significant health gains around the world, many people are still just one illness away from poverty.While people are living longer than ever, the number of people living with one or more diseases that require complex care over many years is on the rise.
There are glaring gaps in access to health care. Whether people can’t afford to pay,live too far away from health facilities, lack knowledge, or suffer from stigma or discrimination, we must solve these problems. We must not tolerate those inequities.
If the situation doesn’t improve, around 10 million Filipinos above 30 years old will probably die before their 70th birthday from noncommunicable diseases such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Many are at risk of epidemics from diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. To maximize the chances of living long, productive lives, everyoneneeds access to servicesthat are effective in preventing and managing these diseases, among others.
We need care that promotes health and prevents sickness. We also need better care for people who already have health conditions. Comprehensive care must be available closer to people’s homes, coordinated by health-care teams to provide both convenience and the opportunity to build enduring and trusting relationships with the people and the communities they serve.
To address the health challenges of the future, and to build strong health systems that leave no one behind, we need leaders to be visionary, courageous and willing to embrace long-term thinking. They can do this by making the choice to commit to universal health coverage and by taking action to change the way health systems are designed, financed and services delivered so that they consider and respond to the comprehensive needs of people throughout their life.
When the Secretary of Health Francisco Duque III attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva last week, he committed to three bold actions that will boost universal health coverage in the country: push for national legislation to strengthen primary health care; invest in health, with particular focus on prevention, and promote good governance and accountability in health.
We are heartened by the leadership of Secretary Duque and support the government’s priority to ensure long-term growth with universal health coverage at the heart of the development agenda. Through a spirit of bayanihan, Filipinos can show the world how to work together towards health for all.