Achieving Universal Health Coverage Can Be Done With Effective Partnerships: Ethiopia UHC Symposium

Achieving Universal Health Coverage Can Be Done With Effective Partnerships: Ethiopia UHC Symposium

 {Photo credit: MSH Ethiopia.}Panelists at the UHC symposium (from left): Jonathan D. Quick (MSH), Mr. Amsalu Shiferaw (WHO), Dr. Yayehyirad, (independent health scholar), Prof. Damen (Addis Ababa University).Photo credit: MSH Ethiopia.

It came as a surprise to many attending the symposium—health insurance in Ethiopia had been talked about in the media for a while, but most didn’t know the preparations had gone this far. It was at a high level session that the Acting Director General of the Ethiopian Health Insurance Agency, Dr. Mengistu Bekele, explained the work the government has been doing to start the implementation of the twin health insurance schemes. Dr. Mengistu indicated the government’s effort to introduce the health insurance scheme is part of its move towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). “Of course it can be done!” said Dr. Mengistu reaffirming the commitment and tying up his presentation with the theme of the symposium: “Achieving UHC in low- and middle-income countries: Can it be done?”

Management Sciences for Health (MSH) organized the symposium on UHC, and another symposium on chronic diseases, as part of a celebration of 10 years of working with partners in Ethiopia to save lives. As part of its commitment to working in partnerships to empower local leaders to strengthen health systems, MSH brought together representatives from government, non-government, and academia to deliberate on the issues of UHC, with particular emphasis on its achievability in low- and middle-income countries.

The global lessons on adopting and sustaining UHC in low- and middle-income countries were discussed in depth by Mr. Amsalu Shiferaw, who was representing the World Health Organization (WHO). Mr. Amsalu discussed how countries sustain UHC through adaptive and accountable systems by providing specific examples from selected Asian countries. He stressed the need to expand basic promotion and disease prevention services to achieve UHC. Mr. Amsalu added that Ethiopia’s effort to scale up training and deployment of health extension workers for expansion of primary care services is exemplary.

Dr. Mengistu stressed the importance of partnerships with a gentle remark about the presenter before him: Mr. Lulseged Ageze from Abt Associates, who highlighted health care reform his organization is implementing in collaboration with the Ethiopian Health Insurance Agency. Dr. Mengistu called Ato Lulseged “my professional father,” recognizing his long term expertise on the subject. 

Earlier, Lulseged had mentioned the basic building blocks of UHC that are included in the health care reform. He stated due emphasis has been given to access, quality and financial risk protection. He also pointed out questions related to how to minimize out of pocket expense, who to cover and what to cover in the health sector reform.

Professor Damen, another distinguished professor from Addis Ababa University who is an expert authority on the subject, shared a few points on UHC with particular emphasis on successes and challenges in selected low- and middle-income countries. Professor Damen mentioned the experiences of Rwanda, Ghana, and Thailand and stressed the need to combine taxes and public funding to achieve UHC in Africa.

Dr. Yayehyirad, an acclaimed scholar who has been in the field for over 40 years, moderated the discussion that followed the series of presentations. He testified that the current initiatives towards UHC are encouraging, and multi sectoral partnerships such as this should continue. Following this, participants shared their ideas and raised questions to the panelists.

When it was all said and done, the deliberations led to a central conclusion which had been highlighted by MSH’s President and CEO Dr. Jonathan D. Quick during his opening remarks. Dr. Quick had stated countries should mobilize local resources to achieve UHC. The symposium concluded with a solid response to the inquisitive theme:  Yes, UHC can be achieved in low- and middle-income countries, but only with strong collaborations at the local and international level.