World Health Day on 7 April is a chance for people around the world to celebrate health. This year focuses on universal health coverage (UHC) and primary healthcare, the cornerstones of health for all – everyone, everywhere. It is a chance to highlight WHO’s goal of a fairer, healthier world in which no one is left behind.
UHC means that all people have access to the quality health services they need, when and where they need it, without financial hardship. Making the right to health a reality is one of WHO’s primary goals. WHO is committed to ensuring that by 2024, one billion more people will benefit from access to services that address the most significant causes of disease and death. The quality of these services must be good enough to improve the health of people who receive them. The cost of services must not push people into poverty and destroy their futures and perhaps those of their children.
Primary health care is the foundation of universal health coverage. It is an approach that embraces all of society for better health and wellbeing, centred on the needs and preferences of individuals, families and communities. It focuses on the essential package of care needed for physical, mental and social health and wellbeing, from promotion of health and prevention of disease and ill health, to treatment, rehabilitation and end-of-life care, in accessible settings where people live or work.
UHC and primary health care recognise that health is a fundamental human right. They put people at the centre, and empower individuals, families and communities with knowledge and care to optimize their health. This requires stakeholders to work together across sectors to address the social, economic, environmental and commercial factors that influence health and wellbeing (the determinants of health). A health system strengthened through UHC and primary health care is resilient and copes better with natural disasters and emergencies.
Japan’s experiences in UHC and primary health care hold many lessons for other countries. From the 1950s to 1970s, Japan invested in controlling communicable diseases and preventing non-communicable diseases. In 1961, the country demonstrated its commitment to equity and access to healthcare by instituting a comprehensive health insurance programme. Japan also understood that involving sectors beyond health were critical for improving health outcomes. These investments have paid off, greatly contributing to the country’s economic vitality today.
Now, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world at 83.7 years. The number of cases of impoverishment due to health spending is very low, ranging from 0.5 – 1.4%. Japan today enjoys good health outcomes, and people are living active, healthy lives at older ages than anywhere else in the world.
But beyond Japan, much more needs to be done. In the South-East Asia region, around 800 million people do not have full coverage of essential services. At least 65 million people are pushed into poverty because of health spending, mainly on medicines. Over 18 million additional health workers are needed by 2030 to meet the global targets of the Sustainable Development Goals and UHC.
The WHO’s Centre for Development is strategically placed in Kobe to conduct research for health systems of the future accelerate progress towards UHC. We work with researchers across the globe to explore best practices and how they can help other countries achieve UHC. Our work focuses on innovative solutions that strengthen health and the delivery of healthcare solutions, especially for rapidly ageing populations.
We are committed to translating these research findings into practice, to stimulate policies and galvanize action to achieve UHC and the Sustainable Development Goals. We are determined that our research on health development will contribute to making universal health care a reality for everyone. We are dedicated to health for all, for everyone, everywhere.