Network Updates / Geneva, Switzerland / 2018-04-06

World Health Day: Universal health coverage is about much more than health care:

Universal access to healthcare encompasses all components of the health system

Geneva, Switzerland
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A project that delivered vaccines more safely and efficiently along the entire supply chain, through solar powered refrigerators and energy efficiency measures, to both reduce vaccine spoilage and reduce environmental impact of storage and transport.

A hospital planned carefully to be easily accessed by various modes of transport, including bus, rail, minibus, cycling, walking and private vehicles, for rapid and equitable access to treatment.

Yet another hospital featured innovative design measures, and was built with local labour and low-impact materials. The use natural ventilation in some hospital areas -to reduce transmission of hospital-acquired infections and conserve energy, generating multiple health and environmental benefits.

What all these stories have in common is this: they actually improved access to vital health services by making service delivery more environmentally friendly. This illustrates how “greening” health services can advance us further, faster along the path to universal access to healthcare – while positioning the health sector as leaders in reducing air pollution and climate change.

Universal health coverage, the focus of World Health Day 2018, is not just about health care and financing the health system of a country.

According to the World Health Organization, “it encompasses all components of the health system: systems and healthcare providers that deliver health services to people, health facilities and communications networks, health technologies, information systems, quality assurance mechanisms and governance and legislation.”

It is not only about medical treatment for individuals, but also includes services for whole populations such as public health campaigns – for example adding fluoride to water or controlling the breeding grounds of mosquitoes that carry viruses that can cause disease.”

Putting health services on a low-carbon and low-pollution development path can support more resilient and cost-efficient service delivery, along with reduced environmental health risks for patients, health workers and the community.

Many practices related to inefficient energy use and resource waste or mismanagement also contribute to pollution and other health risks among health workers, patients and the wider community. These can include reliance on polluting diesel generators for power, poor waste separation practices and the burning of large amounts of disposable hospital waste in primitive and highly polluting incinerators. When these wastes include PVC plastics then toxic dioxins and furans are released into the air.

Promoting low-carbon and energy-efficient health-care services can thus help reduce air pollution as well as high energy costs, improve aspects of service functioning, safety and facility resilience. The lowering of expenditures on energy also frees up funds for other urgent programs at the hospital.

Use of renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, can help expand access to reliable power in clinics without modern electrical power backup equipment—ensuring that the power source is cleaner as well. This can particularly benefit vulnerable groups such as expectant mothers, children, and poor communities.

Even safe, affordable and accessible public transport and good urban planning factor into the provision of universal health coverage.

“All roads lead to universal health coverage,” said Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last year in a commentary in the Lancet.

“Universal health coverage is ultimately a political choice. It is the responsibility of every country and national government to pursue it. Countries have unique needs, and tailored political negotiations will determine domestic resource mobilisation. WHO will catalyse proactive engagement and advocacy with global, regional, and national political structures and leaders including heads of state and national parliaments,” he said.


Overview of health care activities and health

World Health Day 2018 website

Factsheet: What universal health coverage is and what it is not

Report: Access to modern energy services for health facilities in resource-constrained settings

BreatheLife campaign on health sector leadership