Each September, world leaders convene at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, including global health threats. Last year leaders charted a response to tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases. This year leaders will commit to an even bigger task: achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). On September 23, they will attend a first-ever “UN High-Level Meeting on UHC” to advance this goal.
What exactly is “UHC”? It’s simply the notion that everybody should have access to quality and affordable health care. Although each country has its own path to UHC, all countries can and should do more to improve the health of their citizens.
Health innovation is essential to achieving UHC. We won’t make progress on UHC by relying just on the tools and technologies of yesterday. Leveraging the brainpower of scientists and researchers in government and the private sector, we need to find new ways to solve health challenges. For example, advanced new medicines and vaccines have the potential to be game-changers in the fight to improve global health and achieve UHC.
Health innovation is essential to achieving UHC. We won’t make progress on UHC by relying just on the tools and technologies of yesterday.
Fortunately, we’re now living through an era of extraordinary health innovation. Thanks to recent advances, diseases like Hepatitis C, which used to require years of treatment, can now be cured. The science of genomics is now so advanced that a patient’s own cells can be reprogrammed to fight disease in the body. These advanced new therapies, while extremely expensive to research and develop, don’t just make people healthier – they can also save money by reducing the need for costly interventions like hospitalization.
Just imagine the impact that future medical breakthroughs could have on achieving UHC. Novel treatments and cures for cancer, dementia, or diabetes could someday revolutionize health care. Patients around the world would spend less time sick and more time contributing to their societies. Diseases that today kill millions might be relegated to the history books.
When world leaders meet in New York, they should commit to sustaining rapid health innovation. To do so, they must preserve and expand intellectual property (IP) protections and other incentives for new medical research and development. Effective IP protection drives investment to new discoveries, fostering a continuous cycle of health innovation. With the right policies in place, countries can reduce the risk and cut the time and cost of bringing valuable new treatments to patients.
Even as new medicines and technologies promise extraordinary results, achieving UHC also means making sure all citizens can enjoy these benefits. A good place to start is to tackle the costly barriers standing between patients and the care they need. Countries can do more to make supply chains more efficient, limit costly markups (including taxes and tariffs), improve health literacy, and better train and expand their health care workforce. And, critically, countries must commit to adequate and sustainable levels of health care funding.
UHC is a simple idea but achieving it will be a complex, years-long endeavor. Because of the scale of the challenge, the entire global community – governments, civil society, the private sector, international organizations – will have a role to play. At the UN High Level Meeting in September, leaders should unite behind an ambitious UHC agenda that encourages new discoveries that will make our world healthier.