Medicine Cabinet

OVER the next 13 years, countries will be in a race to end all forms of poverty by halting inequalities and ensuring that no one is left behind.

World leaders have committed to the attainment of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with the ultimate objective of ending poverty through strategies that build on economic growth, environmental protection, and social inclusion.

One of its differences with the Millennium Development Goals is its strong focus on means of implementation, such as mobilizing financial resources, capacity building, technology, and data, among others.

Under the SDGs, social inclusion is primarily centered on education, social protection, and health. SDG Goal 3 lists a number of health targets in the areas of child health, maternal health, epidemics of communicable diseases, and universal health coverage, to name a few.

Why must Universal Health Care (UHC) be included in the global 2030 targets? The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 400 million people globally lack access to one or more essential health services. For a number of people, the choice is between getting sick or getting poor. Each year, 100 million people are pushed into poverty and 150 million people suffer financial catastrophe due to out-of-pocket expenditures on health services.

Some are also forced to prioritize who among the sick family members will get well and who will not. The combination of poverty and high-out-of-pocket spending which on average is about 32%, has fatal and crippling consequences. It perpetuates the vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health, and lack of opportunities for patients and their families.

Such is inconsistent with health being a fundamental human right. Under such a doctrine, all people should be able to get the quality health care they need – “whoever they are, wherever they live, and without any form of discrimination.”

The global response to address the lack of health care access is clear: UHC by 2030.

UHC means providing access to quality health services for all without suffering financial hardship. It is not a piecemeal approach and offers a whole range of a person’s health needs. It offers integrated health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care. There is likewise emphasis on the quality of services since they must be good enough to improve the health of the people who receive them.

Moreover, it seeks to protect people from the financial burden of paying out of their own pockets. It reduces the risk of people being pushed into poverty because it will cushion the impact of having to use up savings or borrowing money to pay for health care services.

In a speech during the Human Rights Council’s Social Forum early this month, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that UHC does not just improve health. It is a long-term strategy that has the immense potential of fueling social and economic development for individuals and societies.

UHC is envisioned to reduce poverty, create jobs, drive inclusive economic growth, promote equality and opportunities as well as protect people against enemy diseases.

The race to UHC 2030 is on.

Medicine Cabinet is a column of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the research-based medicines and vaccines sector in the country. The author is the executive director of PHAP. E-mail the author at