WHO and partners join hands for universal health coverage

April 14, 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean has joined the world in marking World Health Day 2019 focusing on primary healthcare as the path towards universal health coverage.

World Health Day 2019 places a special emphasis on equity and solidarity – on raising the bar for health for everyone, everywhere by addressing gaps in services and ensuring that no one is left behind. These key principles are in line with the new Vision 2023 for public health in the region, which calls for solidarity and action to achieve ‘Health for All by All’.

One of the major targets set by world leaders in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is achieving universal health coverage. Primary healthcare is an essential foundation for universal health coverage. WHO has urged decision-makers to make sure that health is considered in all government policies and that more resources are invested in primary healthcare in order to make universal health coverage a reality.

To mark World Health Day, the WHO Regional Office organised a ceremony in Cairo, Egypt. Hosted by Dr Ahmed al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, it was attended by a representative of Dr Hala Zaid, Egyptian Minister of Health and Population,  Geert Cappelaere, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ethan Wong, representative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Richard Dictus, United Nations resident coordinator and United Nations Development Programme resident representative in Egypt.

Dr Zaid commended the collaboration between WHO and the Ministry of Health and Population of Egypt. Dr Mandhari reiterated that WHO and Unicef have had deep-rooted partnership for primary healthcare in 1978, which was renewed in Astana, Kazakhstan, in late 2018. He noted that between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of essential health services can be delivered at the primary healthcare level – including in emergencies, which have unfortunately become a defining feature of the region.

“In my recent visit to Yemen, I met dozens of patients in hospitals who would have died without the essential medicines, treatments that are part of primary healthcare services. Primary healthcare and universal health coverage are important – because they ensure that even the most vulnerable have access to essential, life-saving health services at the primary healthcare level so that no one needs to die of a medically treatable condition,” he said.

Unicef regional director Cappelaere said, “Primary healthcare has the ability to reach communities, including the most vulnerable. It is through primary healthcare that most safe births happen, children are immunised against preventable diseases, and their nutrition status checked. It is increasingly where the first line of psychosocial support can be given, where child victims of violence can be identified and then better protected, where families can be provided with the best advice to take care of their children, including by adopting safe hygiene practices, and where delays in development can be diagnosed early for timely interventions and treatment.”

During the event, the Primary Health Care Performance Initiative (PHCPI) of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched to support measurement and improvement of primary healthcare in the region.