If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized, it is the importance of universal access to healthcare. What the global spread of SARS-Cov-2 has proven is that if the healthcare needs of a segment of the population are left unattended, or even a single individual is left unaddressed, the entire population is at risk.
With interrupted and poor access to the delivery of essential healthcare in almost all parts of the world challenging maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, it is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to too many of the world’s population being ‘left behind’. These gaps in access have been worsened by fragile health systems and pre-existing health inequities amongst women, the poor, people living with disabilities and other vulnerable populations.
In addition, while the global economic impact of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have been immense, there have been sharp microeconomic effects on households, that have been worsened by weak social protection systems that made people less resilient to health shocks, less able to seek care when needed, less able to follow preventive advice and more prone to catastrophic healthcare expense, disability, and quarantine. Over the course of the pandemic, 90% of the world’s countries experienced disruptions in healthcare services, and only about 48% of people in Africa received the healthcare services needed by members of the population.
Despite the setbacks to universal health coverage globally, the following should be considered for African countries to progress to universal health coverage. First, prioritising and increasing domestic financing for healthcare. Secondly, strengthening health systems capacity for primary healthcare, health security, research, and effective regulation of healthcare service delivery is critical. Lastly, choosing and prioritising an explicit set of publicly funded essential health services that are readily accessible to majority of the population.
Enabling these strategies in an environment of good governance and linkages with social protection systems would therefore be a major step towards achieving universal health coverage, alleviating poverty, and building strong governance structures.