President Paul Kagame has backed the proposal by World Health Organisation (WHO) to prioritise universal healthcare in their short-term plan.
Kagame called on countries to recognise universal health coverage as an opportunity and not a burden as some may perceive it.
He was speaking on Monday at a high-level segment on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) during the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
The assembly is the top most decision-making body of WHO.
Also in attendance was the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, newly elected President of the 71st World Health Assembly David Parirenyatwa, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva Michael Møller.
President Kagame emphasised that achieving universal health coverage is possible for all economies:
“Achieving Universal Health Coverage is feasible for countries at every income level. It is also the right thing to do. Strong political leadership will certainly be necessary at every stage,” he said.
“All around Africa, and beyond, whenever countries have put universal, community-based primary health systems in place, the results have been good,” the President noted.
“Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Senegal all offer a subsidy to insurance. Ethiopia is a pioneer in the use of Community Health Workers as the frontline of primary healthcare, and Ghana is also deploying them with great success,” Kagame added.
Citing Rwanda’s experience in implementation of Universal Health Coverage, that is commonly known as Mutuelle de Santé, he said that by combining community-based health insurance and deploying community health workers, the country saw the most significant reduction in child and maternal mortality ever recorded.
“The key was an approach that put individuals and communities at the centre. In choosing this path, Rwanda learned from others who preceded us, and we also benefited greatly from advice and support from the World Health Organisation,” he said.
The digitilisation of the process and uptake of the latest technology also played a significant role to make the difference currently being experienced, the President noted.
“More than 90 per cent of Rwandans are enrolled in health insurance today. Two-thirds of the costs are covered by contributions from beneficiaries, with government subsidising the remaining one-third.
“At the same time, we continue to expand our network of volunteer Community Health Workers, who are present in every village and serve as an essential link between the population and health facilities,” the President said.
Justifying further why countries should embrace Universal Health Coverage, Kagame said that it has a great impact on women and girls, thus making gender equality a reality.
The programmes, he said, do not always need donor funding and can be financed using national resources.
“When the means to succeed, and the responsibility for doing so, are put directly in the people’s hands, not only are lives saved, but it is also sustainable,” Kagame, who is also the African Union Chairperson, noted.
Another reason to adopt Universal Health Coverage, Kagame said, is that it leads to future-mindedness and entrepreneurship by freeing people to plan for the future with confidence.
“Families invest their savings in businesses and in better-quality education for their children, for example. These items should really be enough to cement the political case for Universal Coverage. But it doesn’t hurt to add two more arguments in favour that are often overlooked: Jobs, and women’s economic empowerment,” he said.
Going forward, he called for increased funding needed to achieve UHC by 2030 to train and employ workers in the health sector.
Attended by delegations from 194 WHO member states, the gathering is discussing a number of issues, including the organisation’s five-year strategic plan to help countries meet the health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Meanwhile, the President held a bilateral meeting with the Swiss President Alain Berset, as well as meetings with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and Global Fund Executive Director Peter Sands on the sidelines of the 71st Assembly.