In my previous blog post, I noted how universal health insurance schemes often fail to help women and adolescents in need of sexual and reproductive health services. This shortcoming seriously undercuts the aim of universal health coverage to protect against “financial risk” and increase access to health care for low-income populations.
But an equally important weakness of universal health coverage as a concept is that it fails to address the non-economic factors that play a significant role in determining whether women and young people can access and use the health services they need. These factors include:
A draft discussion paper prepared for next week’s Global Leadership Meeting on Health acknowledges the critical gap of universal health coverage in addressing the social determinants of health and other barriers to health care. Indeed, this gap might even make universal health coverage something of a pipe dream when sexual and reproductive health is on the line. Without concomitant efforts to address these and the economic factors outlined in my previous blog, women and girls will continue to face challenges accessing and using sexual and reproductive and other critical health services and exercising their rights. The government and civil society leaders meeting next week would do well to discuss the full range of factors that can facilitate or impede people’s ability to achieve the highest attainable standard of health.
We at the International Women’s Health Coalition hope that global leaders agree to take a more holistic approach to improving health care by recommending development goals specifically for women and adolescents—two population groups who face the biggest barriers to care and whose health is critical for overall development. Such an approach would allow for focus on the particular health challenges faced by women and young people, the contextual factors that can jeopardize their health and erect barriers to care, and the specific interventions needed for both prevention and treatment of health conditions.
Universal health coverage is important, but it alone is not enough to guarantee access to health services and improve health. We need specific goals that address the diversity of barriers to care faced by women and adolescents, along with a dose of political will and resources adequate to meeting these goals.