Amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a wide range of stakeholders from around the world will engage in a series of discussions on two of the leading concerns of the World Health Organization (WHO) and health professionals at the moment: The issue of universal health coverage and the COVID-19 pandemic raging on across the world.
Dr. Robert Baba Kuganab-Lem, Ghana’s Deputy Ranking Member on the country’s Parliamentary Health Committee and Member of Parliament for the Binduri Constituency in the Upper East Region, is scheduled to speak at the digital conference which will incorporate thematic panel discussions and online workshops to be held from June 24 to August ending this year.
The theme for the forum is “Unlocking Private Enterprise for Public Good: Building Future Health Systems for Universal Health Coverage and Redesigning Health Systems during COVID-19 and Beyond.”
Dr. Kuganab-Lem is one of Ghana’s and the world’s leading advocates of Universal Health Coverage. His research work and complimentary campaign for an accessible, affordable and quality health coverage in Ghana dates back to his tenure as Dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences at the University for Development Studies, Tamale. His work has highlighted the appalling mortality rates of expectant mothers due to lack of access to antenatal care, and the general plight of what he calls “underserved communities” in national health coverage.
The collaborative forum will bring together a diverse group of health sector stakeholders including policymakers, government implementers of health policy, academia, civil society organizations, bi-laterals, multi-nationals, corporate organizations, managers of investment funds, entrepreneurs, and innovators who are passionate about health sector reforms.
The stakeholder consultations to be engaged in will result in the creation of a shared engagement plan on how to effectively engage the public and private sectors in re-designing and rebuilding health systems to achieve universal health coverage.
The forum, designated as a mutual learning series, will also discuss how health systems research can help both governments and the private sector in all countries to build their health system capacities during the COVID19 crises. The organizers say it is expected that the series “will result in the creation of a shared public, private, and legislative engagement plan aimed at rebuilding future health systems to achieve Universal Health Coverage in all countries.”
The concept of Universal Health Coverage means precisely what it says accessible health care and health services for everyone, everywhere. Quality health care is equitable, readily accessible, and affordable.
Today, millions of people around the world have no access to essential health services. Lack of access to health care is however not only a health problem but a socio-economic one as well: Sometimes people must buy medicines with money they need for food. Lack of access to health care can render the breadwinner in a family unproductive and plunge the family into poverty.
“This is scandalous. We cannot accept a world like that. We must not accept a world like that”, World Health Organization Director-General” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says of the situation.
He argues that Universal Health Coverage is achievable in all countries and says the WHO has presented the evidence showing that 85% of the costs of meeting global and national health targets, can be met with domestic resources.
Ghebreyesus lists the benefits of Universal Health Coverage: It improves health, but it also reduces poverty, creates jobs, drives economic growth, promotes gender equality, and protects populations against epidemics.
Dr. Kuganab-Lem of Ghana has always argued that the pivot around which adequate Universal Health Coverage revolves, is an investment. In many countries, the private sector is an important provider of health services. Other roles and activities they engage in may include the direct provision of health care, management of health care institutions, manufacturing, and supply of healthcare-related goods as well as the provision of technologies and financing of health care and services.
The forum will examine the speed and rapidity with which the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, challenging the capacity of every country’s health system to cope with the pandemic. These challenges have, however, also resulted in unexpected and new partnerships between private providers and governments with governments and the private sector working together to contain prevent the spread of the virus, develop vaccines, and share innovations in diagnosis and treatment.
Ghana’s Contribution to Forum
The digital forum is likely to benefit immensely from the Ghanaian legislator’s experience and work in the public health sector. Dr. Kuganab-Lem says in trying to reform their health care systems, all countries must consider universal coverage a priority. He recently told Ghana’s Parliament that it is the right of every Ghanaian to have access to quality health services without any hindrances, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, young or old, or living in a rural or urban area.
As recently as 2015, the Ghanaian MP says, Ghana had achieved only a nationwide health coverage of 44% in spite of the efforts of Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) which was established to make health care accessible and affordable for even to poor.
He says after a few years of implementation, public and external assistance to the scheme dwindled while private expenditure mostly in the form of out-of-pocket payments by the poor, has tripled.
The distribution of medical professionals in the health sector across the country is also so skewed in favor of urban areas when it comes to doctor-patient ratio, that many rural communities have no access to a doctor. The series of workshops will enable participants to create together, an agenda for research and experimentation on how public and private actors can work better together to serve health outcomes in all countries.
Working together, the participants will produce pragmatic research evidence that will aim at generating evidence, unleash opportunities and mitigate risks related to private sector engagement in health care and delivery.
“Lessons to be learned from the series are expected to help countries manage the health crisis, contribute to the strengthening of future health systems and achieve universal health coverage”, the organizers have said.