WHO Chief Calls for Universal Health Care

The World Health Organization’s director general is calling on its 192 member states to adopt universal health care as the best way of guaranteeing health for all.

This is the first time Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has addressed the 34-member executive board since assuming his post in July as the first African head of the World Health Organization. And the former Ethiopian health minister was not shy about touting his accomplishments during his first six months in office.

He said a plan to transform the WHO into a stronger, more relevant organization has been developed. Tedros proudly noted he had achieved gender parity in the WHO’s top ranks, with women outnumbering men.

Tedros said the WHO has built strong political momentum on non-communicable diseases and tuberculosis, and that a new initiative to combat the health effects of climate change in small island developing states has been launched. He appeared most enthusiastic about his vision to achieve health for all.

“At least half the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services. And almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because of out-of-pocket health spending. This must end,” he said.

Tedros said recent visits to Kenya, Madagascar and Rwanda convinced him that universal health coverage is not a pipe dream. He said all three countries are creating affordable health care systems.

“I am more convinced than ever that UHC [universal health care] is not only the best investment in a healthier world, it is also the best investment in a safer world. As you have heard me say, universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The WHO chief said he hoped to advance this issue at the World Health Assembly in May. He said he would ask as many countries as possible to make commitments at the WHA regarding the action they will take toward achieving universal health coverage at home.