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5 key takeaways from the UN General Assembly

September 30, 2019 by PATH

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The chamber of the United Nations Trusteeship Council, where the high-level meeting on universal health coverage was held on September 23, 2019. Photo: PATH/Gray.

Following the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), PATH leaders share insights on our progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 3—what's been accomplished and what still remains.

1. As the world commits to universal health coverage, financing questions loom

PATH attended the high-level meeting on universal health coverage (UHC), where world leaders adopted a political declaration on UHC, the most comprehensive set of health commitments ever adopted at this level. While we applaud this historic pledge by UN member states to advance toward UHC by investing in primary health care, we caution that commitments don’t equal actions unless those actions are financed. Whether it’s shifting resources or restructuring funding streams, the path forward isn’t clear. What is clear is that resources—existing or new—must be spent wisely on the right things for the right people at the right times. We’ve come a long way, but we still have work to do.

2. Global players recognize resources are scarce, collaboration is key

Twelve multilateral agencies, representing nearly one-third of development assistance for health, made a landmark commitment in the Global Action Plan to more effectively coordinate funding. With each global player funding and guiding different bodies of work, this plan underscores that the work is complementary—not competitive—and that resources supporting the work must follow suit. This alignment will be essential for accelerating progress toward the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and delivering on UHC, and we are optimistic it will strengthen civil-society participation.

3. It will take more than access to make health coverage “universal”

Many countries have made strides in increasing access to health care, but world leaders at the UN General Assembly emphasized that we must now ensure that the health care people access is of high quality. In many countries where PATH works, significant barriers to access continue to exist, particularly for marginalized communities. Looking beyond geography, we must examine other obstacles that keep people from accessing health care—challenges like stigma, discrimination, gender and human rights inequities, and political conflict. How do we get there? People-centered primary health care that uses data to target services and resources to the individuals, communities, and regions most in need.

4. Digital and data tools and approaches have matured—but have room to grow

World leaders—even late adopters—agree that digital tools and approaches are an essential part of health systems and necessary for achieving UHC. Countries have worked hard to get to this point, and yet, we can do more. As systems become more precise, the world’s focus on diversity and inclusion must sharpen. We need to prioritize more diverse data sets and be more intentional about including women, children, and other traditionally underrepresented populations in the development and testing of solutions. Without this, we will fall short of our mission.

5. One year out from the high-level meeting on TB, we stand committed

Last year’s UN high-level meeting was dedicated to ending tuberculosis (TB). Our commitment to this effort remains strong. This year, we co-hosted the second annual TB Innovation Summit alongside the Stop TB Partnership, Johnson & Johnson, Fullerton Health Foundation, and World Economic Forum. The summit emphasized the urgent need for technology to accelerate TB control. As digital health and data pave the way, how we approach TB becomes more complex and more nuanced. We’re excited that the conversation around the future of TB management and prevention is shifting to apply more advanced technologies like artificial intelligence.