World Health Day is observed on April 7 every year, the day the World Health Organization was founded in 1948. The special day is an initiative of WHO, and its objective is to focus attention on the most important health issues facing people around the world.
The World Health Organization has dedicated World Health Day 2018 to the fight for universal healthcare for all. The theme for World Health Day 2018 is Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere.
WHO’s goal is a world where everyone has access to the healthcare services they need without having to worry about going into debt paying for them. Half the world is currently lacking access to appropriate medical services. Another 100 million people have been forced into poverty from paying for medical bills or services. The World Health Organization wants to see one billion more people gain access to the healthcare and services they need by 2023.
The World Health Organization was founded on the principle that all people should be able to realise their right to the highest possible level of health. For more than seven decades, “health for all” has been WHO’s guiding vision. It’s also the impetus behind the current worldwide drive to support countries in moving towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). This means ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship. “Universal” in UHC means “for all”without discrimination, leaving no one behind. Everyone, everywhere has a right to benefit from health services they need without falling into poverty when using them.
Time and again, experience has illustrated that UHC can be achieved only when political will and commitment is strong. So in the 70th anniversary year, WHO has called on world leaders to live up to the pledges they made when they agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, and commit to concrete steps to advance the health of all people.
Countries that invest in UHC make a sound investment in their human capital. In recent decades, UHC has emerged as a key strategy to make progress towards other health-related and broader development goals. Access to essential quality care and financial protection not only enhances people’s health and life expectancy, it also protects countries from epidemics, reduces poverty and the risk of hunger, creates jobs, drives economic growth and enhances gender equality.
Some countries have already made significant progress towards universal health coverage. Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates, Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland, Sweden, Seychelles, Russia, Peru, Norway, New Zealand, Monaco, Luxembourg, Israel, Greece, Germany, France, Denmark, Australia and many others have universal healthcare in place for their citizens. But half the world’s population is still unable to obtain the health services they need. If countries are to achieve the SDG target, one billion more people need to benefit from UHC by 2023.
World Health Day shines a spotlight on the need for UHC – and the advantages it can bring. Throughout 2018, WHO aims to inspire, motivate and guide UHC stakeholders to make commitments towards UHC. Firstly, inspiring by highlighting policy-makers’ power to transform the health of their nation, framing the challenge as exciting and ambitious, and inviting them to be part of the change; secondly, motivating by sharing examples of how countries are already progressing towards UHC and encouraging others to find their own path; thirdly, guiding by providing tools for structured policy dialogue on how to advance UHC domestically or supporting such efforts in other countries (e.g. expanding service coverage, improving quality of services, reducing out-of-pocket payments).
It is relevant to add here that the World Health Organization has launched many other global health initiatives, including World Tuberculosis Day, World Immunization Week, World Malaria Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Blood Donor Day, World Hepatitis Day, World AIDS Day and World Antibiotic Awareness Week. In 1953, the National Citizens’ Committee of the World Health Organization declared public health to be vital to peace throughout the world. According to the New York Times, the committee noted that it was “in our own interests to eliminate the conditions that cause ill health, poverty and unrest, for these, in turn, are the breeding grounds of communism.”
In April 1963, then-President John F. Kennedy took on hunger. In a message to mark the World Health Organization’s 15th anniversary, he said, “Let us dedicate World Health Day—April 7—to the proposition that we will have a world where every man, woman and child shall have enough to eat.” Also in 1963, the World Health Organization tried to find the first baby vaccinated against tuberculosis. He was vaccinated on July 1, 1921, in Paris, and the organization hoped “to demonstrate that a vaccinated baby can grow into a healthy adult” even if surrounded by family members who were sick.
In 1977, the World Health Organization marked World Health Day with a vaccination drive to immunize children against six diseases: diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis and whooping cough. Smoking was banned in 1987 at the World Health Organization in Geneva to mark World Health Day. At that time, non-smokers made up more than two-thirds of the 1,300 staffers at the Geneva headquarters.
In the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), where Pakistan also falls, 40% of health expenditure comes directly from people’s pockets; people on low incomes and without social protection are the hardest hit. As many as 55.5 million people across the region face financial hardship as a result of out-of-pocket health expenditure; and as many as 7.7 million are pushed into poverty due to these costs. In some countries of the region, out-of-pocket payments for health services account for over 70% of total national spending on health.