WHO launches new data portal to track universal health coverage

The World Health Organization has launched a new data portal to track progress towards universal health coverage (UHC) around the world.

The portal shows where countries need to improve access to services, and where they need to improve information. The portal features the latest data on access to health services globally and in each of WHO’s 194 Member States, along with information about equity of access. Next year WHO will add data on the impact that paying for health services has on household finances.

“Any country seeking to achieve UHC must be able to measure it,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “Data on its own won’t prevent disease or save lives, but it shows where governments need to act to strengthen their health systems and protect people from the potentially devastating effects of healthcare costs.”

UHC means that all people and communities can access the health services they need without facing financial hardship. So countries aiming to provide UHC need to build health systems that deliver the quality services and products people need, when and where they need them, through an adequately resourced and well-trained health workforce.

The ability to provide strong primary health care services at community level is essential to make progress towards universal health coverage.

Last year, the world’s governments set themselves a target to achieve UHC by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UHC is not only essential to achieving the health-related targets, it will also contribute to other goals such as no poverty (Goal 1), and decent work and economic growth (Goal 8).

In November, the United Nations working group responsible for deciding how to monitor progress towards the SDGs agreed on two measures for UHC: the proportion of a population with access to 16 essential health services; and the proportion of a population that spends more than 25% of household income on health. WHO’s new UHC Data Portal offers data on both indicators in a single place, offering an initial snapshot of the status of UHC globally and by country.

The portal shows that:

  • Less than half of children with suspected pneumonia in low income countries are taken to an appropriate health provider.
  • Of the estimated 10.4 million new cases of tuberculosis in 2015, 6.1 million were detected and officially notified in 2015, leaving a gap of 4.3 million.
  • High blood pressure affects 1.13 billion people. Over half of the world’s adults with high blood pressure in 2015 lived in Asia. Around 24% of men and 21% of women had uncontrolled blood pressure in 2015.
  • About 44% of WHO’s member states report having less than 1 physician per 1000 population. The African Region suffers almost 25% of the global burden of disease but has only 3% of the world’s health workers.

“Expanding access to services will involve increasing spending for most countries,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation. “But as important as what is spent is how it’s spent. All countries can make progress towards UHC, even at low spending levels.” UHC Data Portal


85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries

Noting that cervical cancer kills more than 250,000 women every year and that 85% of these deaths occur in low- and middleincome countries, the United Nations health agency underlined the importance of vaccinating girls against the cancercausing virus and screening programmes to detect and treat precancerous lesions.

The agency also stressed the need to overcome cultural norms and dispel gender biases that are challenging the effectiveness of vaccination initiatives.

“In high-income countries, widespread screening has radically reversed the trends, and cervical cancer incidence and mortality have declined sharply [with] the impact of vaccination in reducing human papillomavirus (HPV)-related diseases is already being documented,” said the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

“But in developing countries, where the burden of the disease is heaviest, cervical cancer control is often not seen as a priority within tight health budgets, and women are not given life-saving access to adequate prevention and treatment,” it added.

While HPV vaccination has shown it can protect women from chronic infection caused by HPV16 and HPV18 (the two main types of the virus known to cause cervical cancer, vaccination programmes have not been implemented nationally in many low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

As a result, women are left vulnerable to the risk of developing cervical disease, which – given the inadequacy of screening and treatment services in many countries – is likely to go untreated.

“Unless we act rapidly, thousands of women will develop cervical cancer because they are not vaccinated,” says Rolando Herrero, head of Early Detection and Prevention Section at the IARC.

“In countries where early detection and screening are difficult to implement due to a lack of proper infrastructure, vaccination has a vital role to play in protecting women from cervical cancer,” he added, urginggovernment commitment to implement HPV vaccination regimes.

Also, in some regions, cultural norms and fear that “vaccination would promote sexual activity” is also a barrier in vaccinating young girls as are low schooling rates, which can limit the reach of immunization programmes, which often take place in schools.

On top of these hurdles, “gender bias” and perception that “women are a less important population to invest in” in many countries is making matters much worse.

“It is vital that governments address these barriers,” said Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan, Special Advisor on Cancer Control and Head of IARC’s Screening Group, stressing: “In many countries, women are often the only breadwinners, and therefore protecting them is of huge human and economic importance.”

Drawing attention to the need to make vaccines cheaper, particularly for the development world, to step up vaccination coverage, IARC Director Christopher Wild stressed: “Competition between potentially new and existing vaccine manufacturers is urgently needed in order to reduce costs and enable countries to better protect women against cervical cancer.”

UN calls for commitment to stop FGM

Female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that endure for a lifetime and can even be fatal, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said, stressing that the UN Sustainable Development Agenda promises an end to this practice by 2030.

“On this Day of Zero Tolerance, let us build on positive momentum and commit to intensifying global action against this heinous human rights violation for the sake of all affected women and girls, their communities and our common future,” the Secretary-General said in a message on the International Day, marked annually on 6 February to strengthen momentum towards ending the practice of female genital mutilation, globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Despite a significant an overall decline in the prevalence of the practice, widely referred to by the acronym FGM, the United Nations warns that this progress is likely to be offset as the population grows in countries where female genital mutilation is practiced, and without beefed up efforts to eliminate it, more girls will be cut.

In a blog post on the occasion of the International, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, wrote: “The cutting and sewing of a young child’s private parts so that she is substantially damaged for the rest of her life, has no sensation during sex except probably pain, and may well face further damage when she gives birth, is to many an obvious and horrifying violation of that child’s rights.”

“It is a kind of control that lasts a lifetime,” she continued. “It makes a mockery of the idea of any part being truly private and underlines the institutionalized way in which decisions over her own body have been taken from that girl – one of some 200 million currently.”

The main reason that FGM continues – as it does in some 30 countries across three continents – is out of a desire for social acceptance and to avoid social stigma, according to a 2016 report by the Secretary-General.

“The hidden nature of the support for ending the practice slows down the process of abandonment,” the authors wrote.

Underlining that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 and now heading their second year of implementation, recognized the close connection between FGM, gender inequality, and development – and reignited global action to end the practice by 2030, heads of UN Children’s Fund(UNICEF) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) called for faster action to achieve this commitment.

“It means creating greater access to support services for those at risk of undergoing FGM and those who have survived it,” saidAnthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director and Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director.

“It also means driving greater demand for those services, providing families and communities with information about the harm FGM causes – and the benefits to be gained by ending it,” they added.

Calling on governments to enact and enforce laws and policies that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM, they urged everyone to make this the generation that abolishes FGM once and for all – and in doing so, helps create a healthier, better world for all.

UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives.

WHO, partners move to ‘green’ procurement of health commodities

WHO joined other international agencies in signing a Statement of Intent to align and “green” procurement of health commodities, in an effort to protect the environment and contribute to sustainable development.

“We need to make sure that when international organizations procure health commodities, we promote responsible consumption and production patterns and support the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director- General, in signing the joint statement at WHO Headquarters in Geneva.

WHO and its sister UN agencies collectively procure an estimated US$3 billion in health commodities each year. UN agencies procure significant amounts of generic anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs), anti-malaria drugs and insecticide-impregnated bed nets, anti-TB medicines and condoms as well as certain vaccines. Additional health commodities procured include medical and laboratory equipment and consumables.

The new agreement sends an important message to suppliers and manufacturers of health commodities that purchasers willincreasingly be looking for environmentally and socially sourced health commodities, particularly those within the international health development sector.

WHO and the other signatories have agreed to reflect this common commitment to advancing environmental and socially responsible procurement as part of their standard engagement with suppliers and manufactures. They will also include it in their institutional strategies and policies.

Future of health care needs global standardization of care

“The management and delivery of healthcare in the hospital of the future will be driven by big data and powered by artificial intelligence and this trend is going to get bigger and better,” according to the panel of experts that discussed the ‘Hospital of the Future’ at the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

The panelists in the discussion included Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, Founder & Managing Director of VPS Healthcare; Sean Duffy, Co-founder & CEO of Omada Health; Dr Elizabeth Nabel, President of Brigham and Women’s Healthcare; Thomas DeRosa, CEO of Welltower USA; Sarah Doherty, Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer of TeleHealthRobotics and Dr David B. Agus, Professor of Medicine & Engineering at the University of Southern California.

Noting significant transformations affecting the world and the advances made in healthcare, the panel was tasked to find answers about the emerging technologies that would impact the way of healthcare delivery in the future.

Dr Shamsheer said: “As almost every expert agrees, data is the new oil, the new currency and the healthcare industry is already using this and moving towards a sustainable, accessible and affordable delivery model.”

With advances in technology, it is imperative that digital health records be standardized. The interoperability of data is going to play a major role in the future of healthcare delivery.

“We would like to take healthcare delivery systems in to the homes and in to the communities as much as possible because we believe we can deliver better care at lower costs. If you believe in value-based healthcare, we believe that outcomes will be better delivered in the homes and communities rather than hospitals,” said Dr Elizabeth Nabel.

The healthcare industry has been a bit slower to embrace the digital revolution compared to others. There is a lack of uniformity across technology systems and these self-created silos are creating confusion, errors, redundancy, missed opportunities, and waste.

“The healthcare industry is very risk averse because of the issues of quality and safety. There has to be some disruption in the industry and I believe the disruption in healthcare will come from outside the industry because we still tend to think very conventionally. We need to come up with new ideas, new technologies that will lead to disruptions. We need a change across the globe, a change which can make things work,” added Dr Shamsheer.

Digitization continues to be at the heart of change in healthcare delivery and has led to the introduction of complex technical systems across the globe.

“Privacy is going to be a big issue because of cyber security. We need to encrypt data. As we know, a single stolen EHR is valued at 100 times that of a stolen credit card, so we need to be careful about online security,” said Dr Shamsheer.

“It is an exciting time to be in healthcare. Medicine is becoming more democratized and patients are already pushing health systems to innovate and to collaborate with them,” said Sean Duffy.

“The hospital of the future will only be used for catastrophic care with individuals using the quantified self with sophisticated artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to create the best possible scenarios for their health. I am excited to be a part of this brave new world and believe that a broad-based revolution in healthcare is just on the horizon,” added Dr Shamsheer.


Date of upload: 14th Mar 2017

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