International Universal Health Coverage Day

When health as a fundamental human right is upheld by all countries and all sectors, we lay a strong foundation for building the world we all want and deserve.”

That quote from the World Health Organisation (WHO) perfectly illustrates why in 2017 it decided to launch International Universal Health Coverage Day. The day, which is held on 12th December each year, aims to showcase international efforts to prioritise health care for all people, communities and organisations across the world.

The theme for 2022 is: “Build the world we want: A healthy future for all.” According to the WHO primary health care which is based on a ‘whole of society’ approach is the most effective way to bring health and well-being closer to people. Accordingly, the WHO is calling for societies and economies to be designed to prioritise everyone’s health.

The WHO comments that improvements have been made in the delivery of universal healthcare since it first started to promote the idea of health care for all some seventy-five years ago. However, the WHO also acknowledges that inequalities in service coverage and financial hardship still exist in many countries, especially among vulnerable and hard to reach populations.

This year’s event is overshadowed by the impact which the Covid pandemic had on universal healthcare with the effects having been exacerbated by the current global economic recession. These, the WHO say are likely to halt progress seen in recent times, particularly among disadvantaged populations.

Even in a country such as the UK which, thanks to the NHS, has had a primary healthcare system since 1948 we have seen the effects of Covid on healthcare delivery. The combination of delayed treatments and the ongoing health impacts of those affected by long covid have helped to put the service under even more strain than before.

But universal health provision is not simply a matter of treating existing conditions. Prevention too plays an important part. Take the Chief Medical Officer’s recent call for the UK to do more to reduce air pollution. Recognising the progress which has been made towards tackling outdoor air pollution, Professor Chris Whitty comments that we should not ignore the impact which indoor air pollution can have on health.

We spend around 80% of our time indoors and yet indoor air pollution is still in many instances not seen as a priority in designing and managing buildings; particularly public spaces. In order to address this the Chief Medical Officer has called for work to be undertaken to find ways of ensuring effective ventilation in indoor spaces whilst minimising energy use and heat loss. Research, the CMO says, should also look at ways of reducing indoor air pollution including reducing the sources of that pollution.

Taken together indoor and outdoor air pollution have been linked with a range of health conditions including lung cancer, cardiovascular problems and asthma. It’s a perfect illustration of why the WHO sees health provision in terms of societies and economies; with every agency uniting to deliver health coverage for all.