Opening remarks of Dr Shin Young-Soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the Second meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on UHC
Good morning, friends and colleagues!
I am delighted to be able to welcome you to the Second meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on Universal Health Coverage for the Western Pacific Region. It is wonderful to see so many old and new friends here.
I have just recently returned from a series of meetings in Geneva with our new Director-General, Dr Tedros, his new leadership team in WHO Headquarters, and our 150 or so heads of country offices all over the world – to discuss WHO’s future programme of work.
These discussions made very clear that supporting countries to strengthen health systems to progress towards Universal Health Coverage is now WHO’s top strategic priority. So this week’s meeting is very timely and important.
Right now, at best only half the world’s population has coverage for essential health services. Hundreds of millions of people cannot access the health services they need without experiencing serious financial hardship. This is simply unacceptable.
This is why health – and specifically, Universal Health Coverage – is at the centre of the Sustainable Development 2030 agenda. We will not achieve the SDG vision of a more equitable and sustainable world, unless we can deliver strong progress towards UHC.
Given the importance of this agenda, I am very much looking forward this week from countries in this Region – on their progress in designing and implementing strategies to accelerate progress toward UHC.
As everyone here knows, a strongly performing health system is the foundation of progress towards universal health coverage.
In 2015, WHO Member States of this Region endorsed the UHC regional action framework, Universal Health Coverage: Moving Towards Better Health. This framework identifies quality, efficiency, accountability, equity, sustainability and resilience as the five key attributes of a high performing health system to achieve UHC.
At the request of the Regional Committee, WHO set up this Technical Advisory Group on UHC last year, to support countries in analysing their progress, provide advice on technical issues and make recommendations to advance UHC.
The first meeting of the TAG held last year was very productive. Countries shared their experiences and lessons learned on progress towards UHC, and received excellent advice from TAG members on ways forward.
Last year’s discussions focused on three inter-related tracks: first, UHC monitoring; second, integrated people-centred service delivery models; and third, strengthening governance and financing through strategic purchasing. Countries identified their priorities and developed action plans in these areas.
This year, we will hear from countries about how far they’ve come in implementing these actions since last year. During this week’s meeting, we aim to deepen the discussions on these issues, and find practical and concrete solutions to the most urgent priorities countries are facing.
On the first issue – UHC and SDG monitoring – since last year, we have developed a regional framework and a baseline report, as well as country profiles. This week we will use this information to discuss how countries can strengthen their health information’s systems to better understand progress and bottlenecks, and drive further improvements.
On the second track – people-centred health systems – we will discuss how countries can transform service delivery to equitably respond to the increasing NCD burden and rapidly ageing society.
We know strong primary health care services are fundamental to achieving UHC. But we also know that in building stronger primary care services, countries need to balance trade-offs between access, quality and costs in ensuring continuity of care, delivered by competent providers in equity-focused, people-centred ways. This is not easy.
On the third issue – governance and financing – we will discuss how countries can choose between competing priorities, and best align their available resources to these priorities.
Again, we understand that this is an incredibly difficult, and complex, issue. The pressure to contain escalating costs means that countries face very difficult choices about which services to include and expand, and whom to include first.
Beyond these specific issues and the important work of this TAG, I would like to briefly update you on some other important developments taking place to advance the UHC agenda regionally and in countries.
At the 68th session of the Regional Committee Meeting held last month in Brisbane, Australia, we discussed two agenda items of core significance to UHC and health system strengthening.
First, Member States agreed that countries need to secure essential public health functions and manage the transition from external funding to domestic and integrated financing.
This is a crucial issue facing many countries in our Region, as they progress from low to middle-income status, and in doing so, ‘graduate’ from external funding provided by donors such as GAVI and the Global Fund.
Second, the Regional Committee discussed at length the issue of regulation – of medicines and the health workforce.
Member States agreed that ensuring the safety and quality of medicines, and the competence of health workers, through effective regulation is fundamental to UHC. In particular, regulation is critical for achieving the health system’s quality, accountability and efficiency.
As always, WHO remains strongly committed to collaborating with Member States to build healthier, more equitable societies.
I hope the discussions over the next three days point towards useful solutions to your urgent challenges, in line with the specific contexts and needs in your countries. I also hope you will be able to take stock of actions decided last year, and identify new courses and renewed commitments for the coming year.
WHO’s Constitution envisages ‘a world in which all people attain the highest possible level of health and well-being’. Quite simply, UHC is fundamental to delivering on this vision. I am grateful to all of you for being here to help us work towards this goal.