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UHC and global health security: Two sides of the same coin?

By Kristof Decoster
on May 31, 2017

Sometimes a couple of tweets and quotes are all you need to discern a new global health mantra (or is it framing?).   So below I’ll just list a couple of tweets & quotes from the last week which for some reason pushed my buttons (Granted, that isn’t too hard).  I’ll leave you guessing who came up with these quotes, but it wasn’t Joe Sixpack and Minnie Moe.

After we learnt last week, via the new WHO DG himself, that “all roads should lead to universal health care” (in itself fairly debatable, although also a tad esoteric sounding (which I much enjoy)), last weekend I came across this tweet, which kick-started a gentle “weekend Twitter wave”:

Global health security and UHC are 2 sides of coin, literally. Both essential for poverty alleviation, alleviation impossible without both.”

Quite a few people seemed to agree:

Yes – pl let’s get rid of the ridiculous separation of the two agendas – it weakens #globalhealth

UHC and global security = one agenda! And health systems strengthening is the mean to get there.“

And somebody replying to a recent (rather gloomy) analysis of what awaits Tedros:  “A dark vision for the future […]. I’d be more optimistic. UHC and Global Health Security are not opposites. They are synonymous.”

Slightly qualifying then his previous tweet:  “If framed around security, yes—global health security = individual health security = UHC. Voila!”

The global health security agenda might well begin to fill the gap…this could be an important opportunity for Tedros.”  (hint hint)

And finally, a quote from a recent blog: “Investments in universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin, not agendas for one part of the world rather than another.”

A former colleague didn’t quite agree: “#UHC = global health security? Should be, but are not (yet). Not much in #GHSA roadmaps supports #UHC. Much work/advocacy to be done.”

As you might have guessed, I also find the new ‘mantra’ a bit bemusing. Is this global health’s version of ‘fake news’? Or more gently (and accurately) perhaps, is it “wishful thinking” for strategic reasons (in a former era also known as “spin”)?

I’ll leave you with a quote by the current chair of the HS Global Board, that I do agree with. Firmly actually. Under the subheading: “Make global health about care, not fear”.

“…Global health is often described as a lexicon of threats, whether from antimicrobial resistance, climate change or epidemics. Safety and security are certainly critical elements of the health systems agenda. But if the rhetoric of fear overcomes that of care, the best-resourced health system will be ineffective in delivering good health equitably. The dream of universal health coverage will be elusive. The WHO has a key role in ensuring that questions of global health security are never divorced from inclusivity.”

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