THE BLOG
13/12/2014 10:09 GMT | Updated 12/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Universal Health Coverage Day: Health Must Be the Bedrock of Our Approach to Development

Friday was Universal Health Coverage day. Two years ago, after a unanimous vote at the United Nations, all governments committed themselves to achieving universal health care: access to health services, without suffering financial hardship.

Universal health coverage matters deeply to the Labour Party. We fight hard to protect the NHS at home because we believe everyone - no matter where they live or how wealthy they are - should receive treatment, free at the point of use, when they need it.

Britain knows the value of universal health care. Our National Health Service is a treasured institution. Since it was set up by a visionary Labour government in 1948, it has been quietly and efficiently saving and changing lives. 66 years later it remains Labour's proudest achievement.

Universal health coverage ensures more people make it to adulthood and can work for longer. UHC also tackles inequality - wealth no longer dictates who gets treated and who does not. And, as importantly, a decent health system builds resilience against diseases such as Ebola.

Despite the importance of UHC, the Tory-led government has done little to help reach - and much to stop progress towards - the goal it signed up to two years ago.

First, David Cameron's Government slashed support to strengthening health systems in developing countries. DfID's support to Sierra Leone's health budget was cut by 30 per cent before Ebola broke out.

The impact of a weak health system is clear to see. Contrast Nigeria, whose relatively strong health system was able to contain and beat the Ebola virus, with Sierra Leone where a much weaker system was quickly overwhelmed.

This decision was sharply criticised by the House of Commons International Development Committee. They also noted how little the government uses the world class skills and experience of the NHS.

Second, coalition ministers have actively blocked the inclusion of universal health coverage in the Sustainable Development Goals - the new set of goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals next year.

Third, this government reversed the Labour Government's decision to set up a Centre for Progressive Health Care Financing. This would have helped countries to develop financing strategies to reach UHC, largely using their own resources.

Finally, David Cameron has undermined progress towards UHC by supporting private health provision in developing countries. Take India, for example, where the UK Government subsidised a private diabetes hospital which only caters for the better off.

This is why Labour will demand that Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is put at the heart of the global development agenda. We will work with other countries to ensure that the United Nations protects UHC as a headline commitment in the new Sustainable Development Goals which will be agreed by the United Nations next year.

To mark the first Universal Health Coverage Day over 500 organisations from 100 countries are campaigning to accelerate progress towards UHC. The Labour Party is proud to stand with the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and NGOs in declaring that health will be the bedrock of our approach to development.