#WHA71 Themes: Universal Health Coverage

By Madeleine Fleming (Curtin University) 

The central theme of the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA) is the concept of Universal Health Coverage. Fundamentally, is it possible to achieve?

Universal Health Coverage as outlined by WHO embodies three main objectives: 

  1. Equity in access to health services
  2. Quality of health services
  3. Protection against financial risk in using health services

I will admit to being a little skeptical about the practicalities of achieving these aims. The problems seem overwhelming. Yet the more panels, discussions and committee meetings I attend, the more it becomes clear to me that we are slowly moving towards this goal.  

Ending violence against children is pivotal in achieving universal health coverage. I previously associated this topic with child marriage and combatents, essentially problems which exist in far away places. The panel It Takes Ending Violence Against Children to Achieve Universal Health Coverage argued for a change in narrative: it is an issue affecting everyone and violence against children happens in every society. 

We need a multi-sectoral approach, as violence against children is a health, economic and social problem. Governments must invest more in social protection to defend against sexist values and culture. The panel included a youth representative from the Philippians and a health worker from Mali who gave examples of where health practitioners were unwilling to give medication to a boy who had an STD as he was deemed too young. Stories like this highlight the difficult task ahead. However change can and does happen. We must ensure policy workers and community workers collaborateto strengthen values that support non-violent environments for all children.  It was a fascinating discussion. 

Taking a step back, I find it daunting that the concept of child safety is not guaranteed. It is also frustrating there isn’t an overnight solution. However, every discussion brings us that little bit closer to achieving universal health coverage.