by Maria-Laura Fornella SI Representative to the United Nations New York.
“What an unforgettable experience for me – a new SI United Nations (UN) Representative, at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
The air was thick with excitement and expectation at 8:00 AM as I walked down First Ave. to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Besides the sirens, black SUVs, police barriers and secret service everywhere, there were also smiling groups of young activists, representatives, delegates and media from all over the world, hurrying down towards 47th street, many of them looking for the right queue to line up for admission, others for the right spot to pick up the special passes for a very special day. The opening of the 74th session of the UNGA on September 23 was attended by most of the world leaders and comprised the biggest Climate Change High Level Political Forum (HLPF), and a less publicised but equally important one on Universal Health Coverage (UHC). In both cases, world leaders signed new, action-oriented declarations which will guide their policies toward an acceleration of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030.
Focus: High Level Political Forum Universal Health Coverage – Moving together to build a healthier world
As a new SI Representative at the UN, I attended the Universal Health Coverage meeting, in which world leaders approved a political declaration on universal health coverage that had been previously negotiated, and is the most comprehensive agreement ever reached on human health. In it, they reaffirmed the right of every human being, without distinctions of any kind, to have access to the highest standard attainable of mental and physical health services.
The opening segment featured statements by the President of the General Assembly, H.E Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, President of the World Bank Group, Mr. David R. Malpass, and Dr. Gro Bruntland, an eminent high-level champion of universal health coverage and a member of The Elders.
Mr. Muhammad Bande called for continued investment in infrastructure, technology and research, whilst reminding the Assembly that the best cure is prevention, thereby stressing the importance of health education and primary care.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the declaration as “a significant achievement” that will drive progress over the next decade on communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, whilst at the same time addressing other health threats through a robust and resilient primary care coverage. He called on member states to provide “bold national leadership” to make universal health care coverage a reality by 2030, and reassured them that the UN would lend them assistance in this endeavour. WHO Director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on all countries to spend an additional 1% of their GDP on primary care and reminded attendees that lack of access to health care is a problem in both low, middle and high-income countries. No one, he said, should have to make a choice between treatment and financial ruin for their families. He stressed that health is ultimately a political choice. Mr. Malpass, President of the World Bank Group committed to be a partner, together with public and private investments, in financing efforts to cover the gap faced by covering 1.5 billion people in the 54 poorest countries.
Gro Bruntland, delivered a very powerful and persuasive statement. She emphasised that UHC cannot be reached through private voluntary insurance. She quoted Nelson Mandela saying that “Health is not a question of income; it is a fundamental human right” and cannot therefore be based on income or the market. It can only be achieved through public financing.” She recalled the mistake made in the past by development agencies and western governments in pressuring countries to reduce public funding for health coverage; this pushed the burden onto households with detrimental results for health care. Such practices, “out-of-pocket payment models”, should be banned, she added. Primary Care should be provided to all vulnerable groups, and the higher needs for women and girls should be recognised and taken care of.
- The plenary segment continued with speeches by heads of state. Parallel to the plenary segment there were two multi-stakeholder panels:
- Panel 1: Universal Health Coverage as a driver of Equity, Inclusive Development and Prosperity for all.
- Panel 2: Accelerating Multi-sectoral and Multi-Stakeholder Action and Investments for achieving Universal Health Coverage”.
Click HERE to read Part Two of a report by Maria-Laura Fornella SI Representative to the United Nations New York on UNGA 74