An international group has asked India to take steps to implement universal health coverage in the country, saying one billion Indians currently are at the risk of financial hardship due to healthcare costs.
The Elders group in its letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said although “good” progress has been made in improving some health indicators, many people still lack effective health coverage and tens of millions of people plunge below the poverty line due to their healthcare expenditures.
The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, also lauded recent health reforms undertaken by the Delhi government, including the ‘mohalla’ clinics in poor areas that provide free primary healthcare services, saying these reforms could prove a good model for universal health coverage in India.
“The Elders have commended India’s political leaders for progress the country has made in reforming its health system, whilst urging greater action and commitment to reach full Universal Health Coverage (UHC),” said the letter, signed by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and Chair of The Elders.
The Elders also expressed concern that the high incidence of people buying often inappropriate medicines from private drug shops is contributing towards an increase in antimicrobial resistance which poses a threat to Indian and global health security.
“Evidence from other Asian countries shows that India could make more rapid progress towards UHC with a combination of increased political commitment, higher levels of public financing and a series of health systems reforms.
“Specifically they recommended increasing public health spending to 2.5 per cent GDP by 2019, focusing additional resources on primary care services and guaranteeing universal access to free essential medicines and diagnostic services,” the Elders noted.The group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights also welcomed Bihar’s initiative to improve the availability of frontline health workers and free essential medicines.
The Elders’ Deputy Chair is Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of WHO.
Referring to Delhi and Bihar’s initiatives, the group said if these and other reforms were replicated on a national basis, this could allow India to reach full population coverage - everyone receiving an essential package of healthcare with financial protection by 2019.
“This would constitute a bold move to advance UHC (which) could bring tremendous health and economic benefits to the people of India,” the Elders said.
UHC means everybody receives the healthcare they need without suffering financial hardship. It is one of the key targets within the new health Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).
The Elders said that UHC is the “best way” of meeting the overall health goal and improving the life chances of vulnerable people worldwide.