It is safe to argue that the issue of income and wealth inequality is nowadays at the center of political debate across the world. Leading intellectuals such as Thomas Piketty in his seminal work, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and Joseph Stiglitz in “The Price of Inequality” have rigorously analyzed the evolution of this social phenomenon and argued that increased inequality and lack of opportunity are creating divided societies that are endangering the future of nations.
Those working in public health have for years documented and discussed how low and decreasing incomes, decline in standards of living, and lack of or limited access health care and other essential services contribute to inequalities in health, manifested in a widening gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor.
universal health coverage
As the father of four children, I know how important access to good, quality health care is. All parents aspire to be able to provide the same for their children. That’s why we at the World Bank Group are working with our partners around the globe to make universal health coverage a reality for all.
Uniting finance and development has been a lifelong passion of mine. Earlier in my career, I supported then French President Jacques Chirac with the development of an international airline ticket solidarity tax to provide global public goods for the poor. This kind of innovative thinking eventually led to the creation of UNITAID which works to prevent, treat, and diagnose HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria more quickly, cheaply and effectively. Other innovative financing mechanisms include the International Finance Facility for Immunization and the Global Vaccine Initiative.
SENDAI, Japan – Without better preparation for disasters – whether they be earthquakes and tidal waves, extreme weather events, or future pandemics – we put lives and economies at risk. We also have no chance to be the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.
Just a few days ago, the world was again reminded of our vulnerability to disasters, after Tropical Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, devastated the islands of Vanuatu. Some reports found that as much as 90 percent of the housing in Port Vila was badly damaged. When the cyclone hit, I was in Sendai for the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place only a few days after the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. That quake and subsequent tsunami tragically resulted in more than 15,000 deaths and caused an estimated $300 billion in damage.
Just as a patient with a weak immune system is more susceptible to disease, the Ebola crisis reminds us that a nation with a weak health system is more susceptible to epidemics. This lesson is on our minds not only because of the crippling impact of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, but also because today is the inaugural Universal Health Coverage Day.
Today also marks the second anniversary of the United Nations' declaration in support of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), so that no one should fall into poverty to pay for the health care they need. A global coalition of more than 500 organizations, including the World Bank Group and the Rockefeller Foundation, are engaging citizens around the world in support of this goal as both a human right and a smart investment.
This mobilization toward UHC defies a one-size-fits-all approach, recognizing that diverse contexts will drive country-specific paths. Whatever the path taken, it's indisputable that progress towards UHC will bolster weak health systems.
With people around the world struggling to afford health care, countries as diverse as Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, and the Philippines are warming to the idea of universal health coverage. This growing momentum was the subject of a high-profile Spring Meetings event examining the case for universal health coverage and the steps to get there.
Some 70 governments have asked the United Nations for help to achieve universal health coverage, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He spoke at Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030, co-sponsored by the World Bank and World Health Organization and moderated by the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
“We can celebrate the fact that virtually all mothers in Sweden survive childbirth,” Ban said. “But in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see their babies. Addressing this inequality is a matter of health and human rights … To secure health, we have to take preventive action. The concept of universal health coverage could be an important catalyst.”
Ban was part of a panel including World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; Harvard University President Emeritus Lawrence H. Summers; Nigeria Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate.