According to the World Bank and the World Health Organization, at least half the world’s population can’t access essential health services.
Nearly 100 million people worldwide are being pushed into extreme poverty by the costs of health care, meaning that after paying for vital health services, procedures, and medication, they have less than $1.90 a day to live on.
A lack of access to quality, affordable health care isn’t just a problem in developing countries or countries with a high poverty rate, it’s an issue that people around the world — from the United States to Chad to China — are dealing with.
But a world in which adequate and affordable health services are available to all is not impossible. In fact, in countries working to achieve universal health coverage (UHC), the dream of health care for all is already within sight.
Every United Nations Member State has committed to achieving UHC by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, but not all have started taking the steps necessary to make health care services accessible and affordable within the next 12 years.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle on the path to establishing UHC is a lack of political will — but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Since 2000, dozens of countries, including Canada, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Cuba, Indonesia, and Kenya, have begun to implement reforms to establish UHC. The reform initiatives of countries like Rwanda and Indonesia are proof that countries don’t have to be wealthy to provide affordable health care coverage.
In addition to overcoming a lack of political will, there are several other major barriers that countries hoping to achieve UHC by 2030 must tackle. These include a lack of trained health care workers, vaccines, medication, equipment, and infrastructure.
In some countries, a lack of infrastructure means that people are forced to travel long distances, which can be costly and, at times, dangerous to reach health care services and facilities. This not only means individuals may be discouraged from getting preventative treatment like vaccines, but also means they will wait until their lives hang in the balance to seek medical attention. A lack of vaccines and medication means that even when they are willing and able to seek care, treatment may not be available or affordable, or there may not be skilled workers to provide care.
In the past 16 years, Rwanda, nicknamed “the land of a thousand hills,” has managed to provide health care coverage to about 90% of its population, despite its low-income economy. It managed to do so by passing policies that direct the use of tax revenue and foreign aid to cover health care costs and asking its citizens to pay voluntary premiums scaled by income, the New York Times reported.
But addressing the lack of skilled health care workers requires a different kind of approach.
About 830 women around the world die every day from pregnancy and childbirth complications, largely due to a lack of skilled health care workers and midwives, particularly in developing countries. In many countries, there simply aren’t enough young people pursuing careers in health to build the next generation of workers.
Those who do hope to enter the field may find it difficult to get proper training because resources and opportunities tend to be concentrated in certain areas. The industry’s low wages and long hours may deter others from entering the field or motivate them to move to areas with potential for higher pay and away from the frontlines, causing a shortage of health care workers who serve a critical function on the ground.
Frontline workers are key to reducing infant mortality rates, treating preventable diseases, and working on the ground during current and future pandemics worldwide. Without them, it will be difficult for countries to achieve UHC.
The WHO estimates that without targeted efforts to inspire and train the next generation of health care workers, there will be a global shortage of 18 million health professionals by 2030. And though the shortage will be felt worldwide, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to be the hardest hit.
That’s why Johnson & Johnson supports people on the frontlines of delivering care.
The health care company has worked to provide education and training accessible to health professionals, including programs that target young health workers. From 2010 to 2015, Johnson & Johnson supported programs for more than 410,000 providers and over 78,000 health care workers in 2016 alone. Through its work with the Chinese government and other partners, Johnson & Johnson has helped more than 250,000 health care workers improve their skills to save the lives of over 150,000 babies during the 10 year partnership.
But establishing UHC can’t just focus on building infrastructure and training professionals, and the burden can’t fall solely on governments or the private sector.
In order to achieve UHC by 2030, a holistic approach involving multiple stakeholders is needed.
While governments can, and should, play a leading role in the global UHC movement, to make the dream of UHC for all a reality, governments, non-profits, and businesses must work together to create and invest in robust health systems.