UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday called for greater investment in universal health coverage to defeat COVID-19 and avert future pandemics.
Guterres made the call during the virtual launch of his latest policy brief, “COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage”.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic had underscored the importance of “strong public health systems and emergency preparedness” for communities and economies.
According to him, the devastating impact of the disease worldwide, rising infections and “troubling signs of new waves” were evidence that the world was not prepared.
He stated that the pandemic is costing the global economy $375 billion (N143 trillion) a month, while 500 million jobs have been lost so far.
Guterres added that human development was going into reverse, for the first time since the UN started measuring it in 1990.
He further disclosed that half of the world’s population do not have access to the health services they need, and 100 million people end up in poverty each year by “catastrophic healthcare costs”.
This huge gap in health coverage, he said, was one reason why COVID-19 has caused so much pain and suffering.
“The pandemic has revealed utterly inadequate health systems, yawning gaps in social protection, and major structural inequalities within and between countries.
“We must all draw the hard lessons of this crisis. One of those lessons is that under-investment in health can have a devastating impact on societies and economies.
“COVID-19 has shown that Universal Health Coverage, strong public health systems and emergency preparedness are essential to communities, to economies, to everyone.
“That is the backdrop to the Policy Brief we are launching today,” he said.
He urged the governments to increase investments in health facilities, including surveillance and risk communication to ensure universal health coverage.
Guteress also called for inclusive and equitable public health programmes devoid of financial barriers, while health treatment should not depend on financial status.
“All countries have agreed to work towards Universal Health Coverage as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“But we cannot wait for 10 years. We need Universal Health Coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises.
“That is just one of the five major recommendations in this policy brief,” Guterres said.
”Other recommendations of the brief are control of further transmission of COVID-19, protection of other health services, equitable access to vaccines and strengthening of preparedness,” he said.