Today, December 12, marks International Universal Health Coverage Day. The day is set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with multi-stakeholder partners. Activities marking the day are used to promote and advocate for affordable, quality and inclusive healthcare.
The commemoration of this day is important for Africa because it faces the world’s most dramatic public health crisis. Access to quality and affordable healthcare still remains a challenge, with fewer than 50% of Africans having access to modern health facilities. Also, it is estimated that many African countries spend less than 10% of their GDP on health care. This situation is compounded by the inadequate number of trained healthcare professionals, sanitation facilities and safe water supplies.
As a result, many in the continent still die of preventable diseases. More than 90% of the estimated 300–500 million malaria cases that occur worldwide every year are in Africa, mainly in children under five years of age.
Despite the numerous challenges, some countries are making progress in the provision of inclusive health care that delivers quality outcomes. Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda have developed national health insurance schemes that allow citizens to access quality health care. Also, most countries are making good progress on preventable childhood illness. Polio is close to eradication, and 37 countries are reaching 60% or more of their children with measles immunization. Overall, measles related deaths have declined by more than 50% since 1999. Nonetheless, a lot more remains to be done.
As the world commemorates the day, African countries must demonstrate greater commitment to deliver quality healthcare to all its citizens. They must make bigger and smarter investments in health to ensure that all Africans are safe from preventable diseases and sicknesses.