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Tue, 7 July 2020

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Twelve years to deliver our promise of healthcare for all

Twelve years to deliver our promise of healthcare for all

Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director, Policy Advocacy and Campaigns | Save the Children

4 min read Member content

In 2015, universal health coverage was included in the Sustainable Development Goals. We have 12 years left to deliver on that promise and the stakes couldn’t be higher, says Save the Children.


Healthcare for all.  A simple but powerful belief that has spread out from these islands to be a rallying call around the world. This idea could not matter more for the world’s children and 2018 could not be a more fitting time to discuss making it a reality for everyone, everywhere.

This year we celebrate two anniversaries for two brilliant institutions. The World Health Organisation marks its 70th anniversary and here in the UK we are celebrating seventy years since the birth of the world’s first system of Universal Health Coverage, our beloved National Health Service. The NHS is the oldest and most successful model of Universal Health Coverage – a system that promises nobody will die because they can’t afford healthcare and all people can access essential quality health services without financial hardship.

There is, quite simply, nothing more political than how we spend money on who lives and who dies. And what greater testament to the power of politics could there be than our shared determination that nobody should die simply because they are too poor to live?

That compassion in action extends to our commitment to international development too. Whether in the Ebola emergency or the frontline of the Rohingya crisis, British doctors and nurses are saving lives in some of the toughest circumstances, all backed by UK Aid and the Department for International Development.

This is not a never-ending commitment and Britain isn’t alone in making it. In 2015 world leaders, UN agencies, the private sector and civil society came together to ensure universal health coverage was included in the Sustainable Development Goals. We have 12 years left to deliver on that promise and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Half the world’s population lacks access to essential health services and 100 million are forced into extreme poverty by health costs every year. These people are suffering and needlessly dying from preventable and treatable diseases like pneumonia – the biggest infectious killer of children under the age of five. As part of a global campaign, Save the Children has calculated that in 2015, two children died from pneumonia every minute. If this seems hopeless, it is important to remember that for every one of those minutes UK Aid saved the life of one child through investment in immunisation alone.

Ninety-nine per cent of children that die from pneumonia are born in developing countries, where the need to expand access to free, quality essential health care is the greatest. This is an unacceptable reality and it needs to change.

The global community needs to work together, to extend health and nutrition services to all people in all communities, to end preventable deaths, strengthen health systems, and stop epidemics in their deadly tracks. We must reach out to those left furthest behind first, to those women and children, the poorest and most marginalised who have the furthest to travel to health services and are least able to afford essential medicines and life-saving care. As the WHO and NHS celebrate their momentous anniversaries, we must harness our shared outrage that so many continue to suffer and die from conditions it is within our power to prevent and treat.

Save the Children believe that the UK can join other countries in leading a global coalition for Universal Health Coverage. The UK’s unique historic legacy, its knowledge, technical expertise and experience delivering health to all makes it an essential partner in this vital mission.

Anybody who has ever lost somebody knows that they leave a place in a family that nobody else can ever fill. Thanks to our NHS that experience is happening later and later and more of us are able to enjoy precious years with the people we love. Thanks to British leadership that experience – the most important of all – could spread well beyond our shores and start to be a normal part of life on earth.  Imagine if we used this special pair of 70th birthdays to commit to a 12 year push to turn health for all from a slogan to a system. That would truly show politics – and Britain – at their world-changing, life-saving best.

Read the most recent article written by Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director, Policy Advocacy and Campaigns - Even in the toughest of times, we can do better by Britain’s kids

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