Good news: Alan Duncan MP has replied to a Parliamentary Question on user fees for health tabled by Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow that was triggered by our November action. The question reads:
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps his Department is taking to help developing countries expand access to free healthcare; and if he will make a statement.
Mr Duncan’s reply:
Promoting health and human well-being is at the heart of the UK Government’s approach to international development. Nobody should die or suffer ill-health because they are too poor to afford treatment. That is why the British Government support international efforts to achieve universal coverage of basic health services.
The Department for International Development is helping many developing countries to make health care free at the point of use by introducing fair health financing systems. For example, in Sierra Leone the UK has supported the launch of free health care for children under the age of five, and for pregnant and breastfeeding women. We will also support the World Health Organisation to help countries implement the recommendations on equitable health financing strategies of this year’s World Health Report.
That the UK Government supports these recommendations on equitable health financing is an important step. The World Health Organisation recommendations say:
Concerning the path to universal coverage, the report identifies continued reliance on direct payments, including user fees, as by far the greatest obstacle to progress. Abundant evidence shows that raising funds through required prepayment is the most efficient and equitable base for increasing population coverage. In effect, such mechanisms mean that the rich subsidize the poor, and the healthy subsidize the sick. Experience shows this approach works best when prepayment comes from a large number of people, with subsequent pooling of funds to cover everyone’s health-care costs.
When the WHO says “required prepayment” they are not talking about user fees with a different name, but mechanisms like the UK National Health Service where the tax system is used to fund healthcare for all. The WHO is saying that this is the best policy and provides the most equitable access to healthcare. They sum up:
No one in need of health care, whether curative or preventive, should risk financial ruin as a result.
This is a sentiment that RESULTS couldn’t agree with more, and we are glad the UK Government also supports this position.