December 12 is observed as the `Universal Health Coverage Day.’ We at the Goan Observer spoke to DR AMIT DIAS of the Department of Preventive & Social Medicine, GMC to better understand the need for UHC. “Goa is a model state for universal health coverage, we have been providing affordable good quality health care for several decades,” he says, “today we can see the benefits of this.” We must use this day to reflect on challenges and opportunities to further advance the cause of healthcare for the people to achieve sustainable development goals….

Goan Observer: Thank you for joining us today to discuss universal health coverage on `Universal Health Coverage Day.’ To start, could you please explain what this is?
Dr Amit Dias:
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) refers to a system or systems whereby all individuals and communities across society have access to quality health services without suffering financial hardship. It encompasses a wide range of health services including promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. Healthcare costs can be prohibitive if the government doesn’t take of the needs of the aam aadmi of the country.
We often say, many of our Indian brethren are just a hospital away from the Below Poverty Line indicators or index. This is our harsh reality and the government is making conscious efforts to ensure that no one is denied appropriate and essential healthcare because of its prohibitive cost otherwise.
However, Goa is a model state regarding healthcare for the people and has been providing good quality healthcare practically free of cost, courtesy the State government’s network of health centres under the Directorate of Health Services for several decades now.

Q: Can you elaborate on this further…how crucial is Universal Health Coverage?
Universal Health Coverage is crucial because it enables everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, to avail of health services required throughout their lives. It ensures that citizens may access services without facing financial barriers, such as high out-of-pocket expenses or medical poverty. It is UHC which contributes towards reducing health inequalities and improving the overall wellbeing and productivity within a society.

Q: It’s interesting to understand the significance of UHC. What are the views of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Universal Health Coverage?
The World Health Organisation has been a strong advocate for Universal Health Coverage for many years. They believe that UHC is an integral part of achieving sustainable development and improving the health and welfare of people worldwide. The WHO supports countries in developing strategies, policies and systems to implement UHC successfully. They emphasize the importance of strong health systems that provide essential services and protection against financial risks.

Q: How is India working towards achieving Universal Health Coverage?
India has made significant progress in recent years towards achieving Universal Health Coverage. The government launched a flagship program called Ayushman Bharat — Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), which aims to provide health coverage to economically vulnerable sections of society. PMJAY provides health insurance coverage of up to INR5 lakh per family per year, ensuring access to secondary and tertiary healthcare services. Additionally, the government is expanding the network of health and wellness centers to provide comprehensive primary healthcare services. Goa launched the DDSSY scheme even before the national scheme.

Q: That’s commendable. Lastly, let’s touch on healthcare costs. What challenges do we face regarding the affordability of health care?
Affordability remains a significant challenge in achieving Universal Health Coverage. Health care costs can be a burden for many individuals and families, particularly those without a good insurance policy which covers every health need or in lower-income groups. Out-of-pocket expenses such as consultation fees, diagnostic tests, medications and hospitalization costs always lead to a financial hardships and even indebtedness.
Addressing and reducing healthcare costs is an essential aspect of ensuring affordable access to quality health services for all.

Q: Thank-you for shedding light on Universal Health Coverage and its importance! Your insights have been truly enlightening.
It’s been a pleasure to discuss Universal Health Coverage on this significant day. The theme this year is “Health for All – It’s time for Action.” You may recollect that “Health for All” was also the theme for World Health Day. We have to move towards Universal Health Coverage. Healthcare is our basic right.

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