By Belynda Amankwa, Programme Specialist for Health at UNDP Ghana

April 7 is World Health Day, which is celebrated annually to raise global awareness on pressing health issues. This year's theme, "Health for All", is particularly timely given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly on less privileged communities. The theme serves as a reminder that access to quality healthcare is a fundamental right that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, race, or geography. 

Improvements made over the years, but inequalities still exist 

Over the past years, there has been significant progress in improving health outcomes, from the eradication of smallpox to the development of life-saving vaccines and antiretroviral therapies. However, despite these achievements, the world still faces significant health challenges, and vast inequalities in access to healthcare.  According to WHO, about 30% of the global population do not have access to essential health services. A quarter of the world’s population faces the risk of impoverishment due to healthcare spending, and a third of the world do not have access to lifesaving medicines. Furthermore, COVID-19 has derailed gains made to combat HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Here in Ghana, despite the significant progress made in healthcare delivery in recent years, challenges remain. Communicable and non-communicable diseases continue to pose significant threat to public health, and the quality of healthcare services remains variable across the country. 
 
As we mark World Health Day and reflect on these challenges, it is essential that we prioritize efforts to reduce health inequalities and improve access to quality healthcare for all. By doing so, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances, has the opportunity to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. 

Invest in Universal Health Coverage (UHC)  

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) guarantees timely and equitable access to quality health services when and where people need them, without financial hardship. Supporting the implementation of  Ghana’s UHC roadmap and strengthening the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) will be a critical step to address the root causes of financial barriers to healthcare access to all persons living in Ghana. The  use of Health Technology Assessments (HTA) for prioritization and effective resource allocation for Universal Health Coverage should also be prioritized. It is heartwarming to see that the UNDP led Access and Delivery Partnership’s support for the institutionalization of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) within Ghana’s health system, is helping to prioritize and allocate resources for UHC for all. 

Prioritize Primary Health Care 

Primary health care brings health services closer to communities and has been identified as one of the surest foolproof methods of promoting equitable access to healthcare. The CHPS concept in Ghana aims at bringing primary healthcare closer to  deprived communities with the strong participation of all community members. To strengthen the CHPS model and expand access to primary healthcare, efforts should be made to address the barriers that prevent some communities from utilizing these services. This could include improving health literacy and community engagement to build trust in healthcare providers, addressing social determinants of health such as poverty, and ensuring that the urban CHPS especially are well resourced to provide quality services. A good example is how the UNDP supported project to strengthen community health in underserved urban areas, is  bringing primary health care (PHC) closer to communities in Accra.

Strengthen Multi-sectoral Action on Health 

Research shows that the contribution of non-health sectors to positive health outcomes far exceeds that of the health sector. It is critical to build the capacity within non-health sectors to understand and respond to health issues. Actions such as training of teachers on health education, involving environmental health officers in disease surveillance and outbreak response, and engaging private sector actors in health promotion initiatives are critical. Achieving health for all would thus require a systemic and mindset shift where health is seen not just as the business for the health sector but of other sectors and individuals as well. Partnerships with non-health sectors such as local government, education, environment, and housing should be strengthened to address the social and environmental determinants of health that perpetuate health inequalities. UNDP’s comprehensive multi-sectoral framework for action on malaria is one tool that provides a coordinated, integrated way to encourage multisectoral action on health.  

Harness the power of digital technology 

Digital tools have the potential to bridge equity gaps by improving access to healthcare for vulnerable communities. The use of telehealth and online training for health workers should be strengthened to expand the frontiers of health service provision and health education for remote or underserved populations. The deployment of these digital tools should however be underpinned by sound policy and legal frameworks that enhance equity and improve access. This could include developing guidelines on the appropriate use of telemedicine and digital health records. In addition, it is also important to establish mechanisms for informed consent and patient empowerment and ensure that digital health solutions are accessible and affordable to all. As highlighted in UNDP’s guidance on rights based and ethical use of digital technologies in HIV and health programmes, technical and legal infrastructure, including accountability mechanisms, are critical to ensure that health programming are people-centred and removes barriers to access to ensure health for all’.  

Conclusion 

As we approach 2030 and work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 and other health-related SDGs, we must remember that time is of essence. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind, and we must work together across sectors and borders to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life. On this World Health Day, let us commit ourselves to taking concrete, concerted, and deliberate actions towards achieving universal health coverage. 

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