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ECOWAS health ministers call for quicker UHC delivery

An ECOWAS high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Ghana has called on member countries to accelerate the delivery of UHC.

UHC has been defined to mean ensuring that all ECOWAS citizens get timely access to quality health care, regardless of ability to pay at the point of use.

The meeting said the delivery of UHC in the region had become critical because although health care was a basic human right, many people in the region did not have either access or timely access to quality health care.

The meeting — which was on the sidelines of the Extraordinary Assembly of Health Ministers of the ECOWAS Region for the adoption of the West African Health Organisation’s (WAHO) Vision 2030 — brought together health ministers from member states, related stakeholder ministers, development partners, among other stakeholders, to discuss, debate and chart the way forward for the delivery of UHC in all member states.

Top priority

Addressing the opening of the meeting in Accra yesterday, the Director-General of WAHO, Professor Stanley Okolo, said since health was a fundamental human right, any obstacles to access had to be addressed as a top priority.

Quoting from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he said health was a fundamental human right and a key indicator of sustainable development.

He said poor health threatened the rights of children to education, brought limit to economic opportunities and increased poverty within communities and countries.

“One of the goals of UHC is, therefore, to avoid financial hardship associated with health care regardless of the quality of the services. On the other hand, modern medical care is not cheap; yet to be sustainable, it needs to be integrated into UHC,” he said.

Prof. Okolo said a key indicator to consider was the incidence of catastrophic out-of-pocket spending made by individuals to healthcare providers at the time of service use.

Health system

A co-chair of the summit and Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said in order to ensure that no one was left behind, stakeholders had to make a conscious effort to build a safer and healthier future for all, strengthen health systems to make them resilient and capable of meeting everyone’s needs in the various member countries, and to a larger extent, the whole world.

“Progress made towards UHC in the ECOWAS region is slow, and varies from country to country in terms of insurance schemes, management bodies, financing mechanisms and populations covered.

“Several initiatives exist in the region in terms of free health care targeting certain segments of the population such as pregnant women, children under five years of age or the elderly. Although the sub-region has made great strides towards achieving UHC for its citizens, evidence suggests that greater efforts would be required from all countries in order to fully achieve UHC for all by 2030,” he said.

COVID-19 experience

Ghana’s Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, also a co-chair, said upon his personal “COVID-19 experience”, he had come to appreciate a statement made nearly 20 years ago that: “Healthcare is too precious to be left to chance, and too central to life chances to be left to your wealth”.

He said UHC was, therefore, not just a political choice but also a moral imperative to guarantee the right to health for all.

He said as it stood, coverage with essential healthcare services in Africa was low.

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