Last week, I joined Living Goods, heads of state, ministries of health, global leaders, and like-minded advocates from around the world in New York City for the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year’s assembly included a significant landmark for all us in the global health field: The adoption of the Political Declaration for the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
After months of negotiating, country leaders formally adopted the Political Declaration on UHC on September 23rd. While it isn’t perfect—rarely anything is—I am pleased that the Declaration includes calls for the scale-up of community health workers (CHWs) and increased investment in digital health technology. Through my work in Kenya, I’ve seen the impact a digitally-empowered CHW has in reaching the last mile. The recognition of this in the Political Declaration lays the groundwork for advocates and partners to prioritize community health as the foundation of the health system.
We must now look at what’s next in the movement for UHC and how we can make the Political Declaration actionable. Part of moving forward is forging multi-stakeholder relationships and bolstering collaboration so that civil society and community voices are heard.
On September 25, Living Goods hosted a dialogue between Kenyan government officials, including Kenya Member of Parliament the Hon. Stephen Mutinda Mule, Isiolo Governor Dr. Mohammed Kuti, and local civil society organizations (CSOs) that travelled to New York for UNGA. At this meeting, we discussed how we can move from talk to action. In Kenya, we have strong political will for achieving UHC and we are already acting in the field with our four pilot UHC Counties, including Isiolo County. But what we’re missing are the frameworks to track funding and actionably progress toward these goals. To move forward, we believe CSOs and community leaders must hold government leaders accountable for community health commitments.
I also had the opportunity to speak as a panelist on “Delivering on UHC: From the Guidelines to the Frontlines,” hosted by Johnson & Johnson, Frontline Health Workers Coalition, IntraHealth International, Living Goods, and Pathfinder International. This event discussed ways in which frontline health workers, including CHWs, nurses, midwives, and more, can influence and accelerate progress toward UHC. With a health worker gap of 18 million, we need to prioritize community health programs to help fill the gap and better connect communities to health facilities. But this can’t be done without funding. Domestic resource mobilization, private-public partnerships, and innovative financing were hot topics in our discussion to strengthen the health workforce and achieve UHC.
Finally, at the end of my week in New York, I was able to attend and speak at “Achieving SDG 3 and UHC: Innovative Projects, Policies and Financing Models to Reach those Left Furthest Behind.” While I shared Living Goods’ experience with innovative digital health and financing projects, I was also able to learn about other exciting innovations. At the event, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mde. Fatima Maada Bio, launched the Sierra Leone International Health and Research Medical Center Project which aims to improve the health and well-being of women and girls in West Africa. This project put in perspective why we all travelled to New York: To improve the health and lives of vulnerable populations.
At the heart of UHC are the communities and the families for whom access to primary health care is of the utmost importance We must listen to their voices and address their priorities as we move forward. We must listen and learn what services they need and how those services can best be delivered. While we focus on next steps for implementing the Political Declaration in each of our countries, we must ensure that communities are at the decision-making table if we truly want to achieve health for all.
Deputy Country Director, Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy
Ruth is a skilled public health specialist with extensive knowledge and skills in health policy, program management, knowledge management, community health programing, and health systems management. She has worked in both the public and private sectors and over the years has provided overall management and leadership in the development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of integrated health programs. She is a doctoral candidate in Health Communications at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and holds a Master’s of Science in Health Systems Management from Kenya Methodist University. She is an M&E Fellow.