Half of the world’s population lack access to essential health services – are we doing enough?

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(Annie Spratt, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children UK & Corry Jacobs, Head of Corporate Government Affairs, Global Health and Trade, GSK


In 2015, world leaders agreed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – not simply an ambitious policy “to do list” but a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

This ambition cannot be achieved without reaching Goal 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing for All), including the aim of providing Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – ensuring everyone is able to access the health services they need, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.

Despite UHC being the cornerstone of Goal 3, and Goal 3 being central to the SDGs as a whole, as we look at the progress made so far, at least half the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services. Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket health expenses. Surely we can do better?

An opportunity to raise our voices

Effective collaboration requires a shared set of goals, like those set out under the SDGs. Together GSK and Save the Children share the same vision – that no child should die from preventable causes. And we understand that achieving UHC is necessary to realise this.

On September 23, at a High-Level Meeting at the UN General Assembly, heads of state, political and health leaders, policymakers, the private sector, and civil society will convene to reaffirm and accelerate efforts to deliver UHC. This is an opportunity for collaboration, and to support and encourage countries to put forward commitments and action plans that work towards making essential healthcare available for all. This meeting is a key staging post on the journey to achieving UHC by 2030.

Save the Children and GSK will both be there, encouraging and supporting national governments to ensure they have set priorities and plans that reinforce their commitment to providing essential healthcare for everyone, especially the poorest and most marginalised. But while we both agree that governments have the primary responsibility to fulfil UHC, we also understand that achieving this will require collaboration between multiple stakeholders, across multiple sectors – including our own.

Working together to drive change

Since our partnership formed in 2013, we have worked together to address some of the critical policy and implementation gaps that prevent countries fulfilling their ambitions to achieve health for all. Using the data from our joint health programmes, we have been able to provide national governments with the evidence that supports increased investment in health, and strategies to strengthen their healthcare systems to include those who may have previously been left behind – often women and children.

In Kenya, we worked together to increase the training, reach and scope of health workers in the poorest communities, and safely introduced a new, potentially life-saving medicine to help reduce the number of babies dying from common umbilical cord infections. We also worked with Kenya’s Ministry of Health to introduce a high impact and cost-effective technique to promote the health of premature and underweight newborn babies.

More than just supporting the delivery of services, we have worked closely with the national and county governments to support their efforts to strengthen their health and finance systems.

The Ministry of Health in Kenya have since increased their health budget by 23%, recruited 47% more health professionals, and plan to scale up some of our programme interventions in more areas of the country, based on our evidence of success. We are so pleased that our partnership has generated the evidence needed to ensure more people can access the healthcare they need.

Our partnership approach is an example of how working together in innovative ways can deliver impact, and we would encourage other organisations to think about new ways to operate alongside others.

Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies

Recent years have witnessed some of the largest protests in human history. People are taking to the streets amid a desire for change, putting pressure on decision-makers for urgent and courageous leadership to find sustainable and inclusive solutions to some of the major challenges ahead of us.

A range of forces are at play. By 2022, some 60% of gross domestic product will be digitized – but current education systems are failing to prepare people for decent work in this future. Based on current trends, it will also take approximately two centuries to close the global economic gender gap. Meanwhile, the world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.

To tackle these challenges, Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies is one of the four focus areas at the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit. A range of sessions will bring stakeholders together to take action that will bolster local entrepreneurship and innovation, while making growth more equitable.

Taking the next step

We must all be partners in maintaining what progress has been achieved so far in child health. Save the Children and GSK still have high ambitions for what more can be achieved and we are continuing to find new ways to provide healthcare to some of the hardest-to-reach communities.

We’ve learned that by acting together, and drawing on our complementary skills, expertise and reach, our impact is magnified beyond the sum of its parts. It is only through greater cross-sector collaboration that real progress will be made.

To sustain and reinforce this progress, we call on other leaders to join us in supporting national action plans and global health initiatives that progress towards UHC and the fulfilment of the wider SDG agenda.

The High-Level Meeting on UHC is a cornerstone moment to reflect, collaborate and call for accelerated action to ensure that by 2030, everyone can access the health services they need. It’s an opportunity to explore new and innovative partnerships and a key moment to ask ourselves, are we really doing enough, and how can we work together to do more, and do it better?

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