The World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo has today highlighted the critical role that national parliaments can play in the adoption of universal health care policy and legislation, and the allocation of adequate resources for its successful implementation to protect poor people against catastrophic health expenditures.
Speaking at the high-level Ministerial conference on health financing: Value for Money, Sustainability and Accountability in the Health Sector which is taking place in Tunis, Tunisia, from 4-5 July 2012, the Regional Director noted that universal health coverage is a noble vision for Africa and we should take concrete steps to invest in the health of the human capital, which is very essential for economic growth and sustainable development.
"It is an aspiration of the majority of countries around the world that requires effective homegrown financing strategy. It implies equitable and efficient revenue collection, pre-payment, pooling and purchasing of cost effective health packages," said Dr Sambo.
Over 300 participants comprising Ministers of Health, Ministers of Finance and their repre-sentatives, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, private sector enterprises and representatives of bilateral and multilateral development partners are attending the conference organized by member agencies of the Harmonization for Health in Africa mechanism (HHA).
Referring to the uneven coverage of essential health services in the African Region, par-ticularly regarding MDGs 4, 5 and 6, the Regional Director highlighted the most recent estimates of maternal mortality ratio in sub Saharan Africa: 480 deaths per 100,000 live births, under-five mortality rate: 119 deaths per 1000 live births, 60% case detection rates for tuberculosis and 50% coverage of pregnant women with HIV receiving antiretroviral medicines to prevent maternal to child transmission (MTCT) and 49% coverage of an-tiretroviral therapy among people with advanced HIV infection.
He told participants that these indicators clearly show coverage gaps in public health interventions and they obviously affect progress towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. He attributed the low coverage of health and health services to the weak capacity of public services in terms of organization and management of human, financial and technological resources.
In working towards universal coverage, Dr Sambo proposed four main thrusts including
- strengthening the capacities of public health infrastructure to provide effective, safe and quality health services;
- raising sufficient resources for health - from domestic and external sources;
- promoting efficiency of national health services to optimize resources and maximize results and
- removing financial risks and barriers to access through compulsory prepayment- payment before need for health care arises.
The Regional Director placed emphasis on prepayment and pooling of available financial resources to spread financial risks across the population to ensure that people can use health services without fear of financial ruin. He pointed out that in spite of ongoing chal-lenges some countries have implemented health insurance schemes on a national scale. He called on Ministries of Finance in collaboration with international financing institutions to play a major role in pursuit of universal health coverage through assessment of financial feasibility and sustainability of prepaid health financing systems, along with strengthening the national health financing system among others.
The two-day conference is expected to end with the adoption of the Tunis Declaration on Value for Money, Sustainability and Accountability in the Health Sector.