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Engaging Policymakers to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage

BY Taylor Capizola • January 30, 2019

By Dr. Diana Nambatya Nsubuga

Living Goods Uganda Deputy Country Director – Community Health Partnerships

For more than 70 years, the movement to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) has been about advancing the fundamental human right every person has to a healthy and productive life. Each December, UHC Day serves as the global, annual rallying point for this movement to ensure that no geographical, cultural, or financial barriers stand in the way of every person accessing high-quality primary health care services.

Achieving UHC and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals requires shifting health system paradigms. The goal is moving from an almost exclusively vertical, top-down and curative approach to one that’s people-centric and focused on prevention. However, no matter how much or how often local communities are empowered, we cannot achieve UHC until all the diverse stakeholders who comprise health systems effectively engage with one another.

It is no longer a question of how much health professionals know. Instead, it’s about how they use that knowledge to solve these global issues.

To this end, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and partners organized a high-level breakfast meeting on UHC Day focused on multisectoral engagement, which was attended by parliamentarians, the National Population Council, and the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development. In addition, multilateral and civil society partners took part, including Living Goods, PATH, WHO, Financing Alliance for Health, AMREF Health Africa, Pathfinder International, SPEED Makerere School of Public Health, and members of the media.

The aim of the meeting was to enhance the capacity of policymakers to effectively advocate for multi-sectoral engagement to achieve UHC. After sharing evidence about the extent to which UHC is a highly effective and cost-efficient investment, partners examined where Uganda is on its journey to UHC. Many noted that health system improvements are key to eradicating poverty and preventable health-related deaths. We also shared efforts to implement an official country roadmap for UHC, as well as formally establishing parliamentarians’ roles to achieve these goals. The meeting leveraged influential voices ranging from policymakers to community health champions, who voiced their ideas for current and future plans to bring health to all Ugandans.

Emilie Chambert, Living Goods’ Uganda Country Director, stressed that increased access to primary health care is imperative for achieving UHC, and emphasized the actions Living Goods takes to expand primary health services at the community level. Living Goods and other partners are working to elevate the visibility of community health within the UHC space. This partnership is part of the larger movement of key organizations, including UHC2030, donors and country leaders, working to increase the dialogue on community health programs globally and advocate for funding through domestic resources and foreign assistance.

She noted that current evidence unequivocally demonstrates that major health problems in Uganda are largely preventable, meaning there is an urgent need to ensure that communities have adequate information and resources to act as the frontline in preventing these deaths.

Dr. Sarah Byakika, the Commissioner of Planning at the Ugandan Ministry of Health, stressed Uganda still has a long way to go in attaining UHC, pointing to the 2015 global assessment data profile that found fewer than 50 percent of Ugandans had access to adequate primary health services. She called for discussions surrounding health sector reforms, saying, “we still have a long way to go and this calls for all actors to join hands to achieve UHC.” Dr. Byakika said there is an urgent need for a strong, collective, commitment to effectively and successfully implement UHC and stressed the need for Ugandan Parliamentarians to prioritize UHC as a key advocacy issue.

At the culmination of the meeting, the Ministry of Health committed to engaging parliamentarians to ensure that UHC remains a critical component as they increase oversight, budget appropriation, representation, and accountability for community health. The Ministry of Health, supported by Living Goods, has committed to achieving UHC by 2040 and has also established a health sector development plan to accelerate the UHC movement, highlighting the essential health-related services needed to promote healthy and productive lives for all Ugandans.

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