In Latin America and the Caribbean, 30% of the population lacks access to health care for financial reasons—a situation PAHO member countries have pledged to change.
The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) has joined a coalition of more than 500 organizations from over 100 countries to celebrated the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day on December 12.
The campaign, spearheaded by the Rockefeller Foundation, WHO, and the World Bank, seeks to increase awareness of the importance of access to health care as a basic human right and as essential for countries’ social and economic well-being.
PAHO/WHO is supporting the campaign as part of its ongoing efforts to advance universal access to health and universal health coverage in collaboration with its member countries in the Americas.
“Universal health coverage is a powerful concept and movement that has begun not just in Latin America and the Caribbean but globally as well,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “It is a process rather than a finite goal, but it is essential to advancing health as both a human right and a crucial component of development.”
Currently, 30% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean lacks access to health care for financial reasons, and 21% does not seek care because of geographical barriers. To address this problem, ministers of health from throughout the Americas endorsed a Regional Strategy for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage, during the 53rd PAHO Directing Council in October of this year.
The new strategy provides a common framework for countries to evaluate their policies and measure their progress toward universal access to health and universal health coverage. It identifies four strategic lines of action for countries to advance toward universal coverage:
- expand equitable access to health services that are comprehensive, good of quality, and centered on people and communities
- improve stewardship and governance in the public health sector
- increase and improve financing for health and advancing toward elimination of out-of-pocket payments that are a barrier to access to care
- strengthen coordination between the public health sector and other sectors to address social and economic conditions that affect health and access to care.
Based on the regional strategy, health leaders in PAHO/WHO member countries have been developing individualized country roadmaps and mobilizing national and international resources to strengthen and transform their national health systems toward universal access to health and universal health coverage.
In addition to its member countries in the Americas, key PAHO/WHO partners in promoting universal health coverage include the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Universal Health Coverage Day marks the two-year anniversary of a United Nations resolution, unanimously passed on 12 December 2012, which endorsed universal health coverage as a pillar of sustainable development and global security.
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO and is part of the Inter-American system.
- The Latin America and Caribbean region is one of the most inequitable in the world, with 29% of the population living in poverty and the poorest 40% receiving less than 15% of total income.
- As of 2010, 36 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean lacked access to safe drinking water, 120 million lacked wastewater disposal and sewerage services, and nearly 25 million had to defecate in the open.
- Eleven Latin American and Caribbean countries report a deficit of health workers, with fewer than 25 physicians, nurses, and certified midwives per 10,000 population.
- Public spending on health in Latin America and the Caribbean was only 3.8% of GDP in 2011, compared with 8% average public spending on health in OECD countries.
- PAHO/WHO considers 6% of GDP as a useful benchmark for the minimum (though not necessarily sufficient) spending level needed to reduce inequities and increase financial protection in the framework of universal access to health and universal health coverage.
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