A triumph for universal health care advocates?

Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations with Vuk Jeremic, president of the sixty-seventh session of the general assembly during the opening of the general debate. Photo by: Devra Berkowitz / UN

A number of charities and nongovernmental organizations hailed the U.N. General Assembly’s move on Wednesday (Dec. 12) to adopt a resolution promoting universal health coverage. But what does the decision really mean for global health?

The resolution calls upon member states to develop health financing systems that make health care affordable even to the poorest people. Such systems should lead to the avoidance of “significant direct payments at the point of delivery” and “catastrophic health care expenditure.”

Individuals should also not be driven to deeper pockets of poverty as a result of seeking care, the resolution notes. And while the UNGA acknowledges that such systems should be tailored to the context of a particular country, it “encourages” member states to transition their health systems toward universal coverage.

“This resolution sends a clear message that UHC is essential to achieving the right to health and is a key component of the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) framework,” Management Sciences for Health President and CEO Jonathan Quick said in a news release.

Oxfam health policy adviser Ceri Averill, meanwhile, said this “ensures that universal healthcare stays on the agenda as one of the post-MDG goals.”

Many have seen the move as ensuring universal health care will remain in the post-2015 development agenda. UNGA resolutions tend to help build attention toward a particular issue. They are however not legally binding and, therefore, do not ensure that member states would follow the calls set out in the resolution.

There is also the issue of funding. Poor countries will need to rely on aid to deliver affordable health care. Zambia, for example, has been stepping up spending for health care, but Zambia’s representative to the United Nations Mwaba Kasese-Bota said aid “remains an important factor in Zambia’s resource mobilization,” according to The Guardian.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.