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In an at­tempt to im­prove univer­sal ac­cess to health ser­vices, the East African Com­mu­nity (EAC) is push­ing for a so­cial health pro­tec­tion pro­gramme across all mem­ber states, the New Times in Rwanda re­ported. How­ever, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s co- or­di­na­tor of health fi­nanc­ing pol­icy, Joe Kutzin, says that univer­sal health cov­er­age is a di­rec­tion more than a des­ti­na­tion.

“What this means is that you want to move to­wards univer­sal cov­er­age. You want to im­prove ac­cess, fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tion and qual­ity. And in that sense, those are goals for ev­ery coun­try in the world,” Kutzin told over 200 par­tic­i­pants at the open­ing of a three­day re­gional con­fer­ence on so­cial health pro­tec­tion, which took place in Ki­gali, Rwanda in Septem­ber. The aim of the con­fer­ence was to con­sider var­i­ous ap­proaches to pro­vid­ing univer­sal health cov­er­age in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Bu­rundi. Univer­sal cov­er­age is the sub­ject of a new study that re­viewed health sys­tems in 12 African and Asian coun­tries.

Kutzin al­luded to the fact that African coun­tries have not ful­filled the Abuja Dec­la­ra­tion, which re­quires EAC mem­bers to al­lo­cate 15 per cent of their an­nual bud­gets to the health sec­tor.

“In or­der to be­come a mid­dle-in­come econ­omy, a need for re­gional col­lab­o­ra­tion and co- or­di­na­tion of so­cial health pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms must be tar­geted.” This was ac­cord­ing to Ambassador Richard Sez­ib­era, sec­re­tary gen­eral for the EAC.

“More coun­tries are look­ing for ways to de­velop fi­nanc­ing sys­tems so ev­ery­one has eq­ui­table and af­ford­able ac­cess to health ser­vices. Each coun­try can take im­me­di­ate steps to­ward univer­sal cov­er­age de­spite its lev­els of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” Sez­ib­era ex­plains. How­ever, Kutzin adds that some fi­nance min­istries are skep­ti­cal about dis­burs­ing such money be­cause health min­istries have not given full ac­count­abil­ity of the funds. This was dis­puted by Rwanda’s Min­is­ter of Health, Dr Agnes Bi­nag­waho, who said that “all gov­ern­ments are ca­pa­ble of do­ing what Rwanda has done by giv­ing pri­or­ity to the health sec­tor”. Rwanda al­lo­cates 16 per cent of its national bud­get to the health sec­tor.

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