Alarming gaps in universal health coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa

November 16, 2010

So why is health systems research gaining global attention now?

There are alarming gaps in health coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa, says Martin Dahinden. Credit: SADC

Despite progress by a handful of middle-income countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand and South Korea towards innovative universal health coverage – thanks to a combination of political commitment and financial resources for improving national health systems – the rest of the landscape is bleak, to put it mildly.

“The most alarming gaps in coverage are still reported from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East,” Martin Dahinden, director-general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, told the opening plenary of the global symposium on health systems research on Tuesday.

Among the 32 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 offer no coverage at all, while others such as Gambia, Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda, are slowly reaching 10 per cent coverage.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, financial resources for health are starting to become available, “but there is reason to doubt the political commitment in some countries,” he says.

Dahinden says the future lies in “integrated, inter-linked approaches, where knowledge is the primary factor defining health systems interventions”.

The key lies in evidence the drive the debate and decision-making towards universal health coverage, he says. To achieve this, science and public health communities have to engage in dialogue and collaboration with politicians, ministers of health and finance, and civil society.

I only hope it does not become a dialogue among the deaf.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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