Most recently the Ebola outbreak e.g. in Sierra Leone drew special attention to gaps and deficits in health care in the globally poorest countries and threatened the Western world. For many years, ILO has stressed the relevance to move rapidly forward with health protection in developing countries, including in Sierra Leone. However, progress in coverage and access to needed health care remained modest and immeasurable deaths, suffer and angst is caused by neglecting to implement effective health protection policies.
At the same time, inequities within and across countries widen given significant advances in medical science – ranging from cloning stem cells to tissue regeneration – that have the potential to further improve the life expectancy of the richest parts of the world’s population enjoying universal health protection. It is also interesting to note that most of the Ebola infected from richer countries who were flown out of Africa to receive treatment in their home countries survived as compared to many African Ebola victims. Thus, universal health protection has the potential to reduce severe disease outbreaks that seem hardly be manageable in the absence of quality health services.
Against this background, what is needed most urgently in Sierra Leone and beyond is progress towards universal health protection for all people in need.
As outlined in the recent ILO publication Universal Health Protection - Progress to date and the way forward many policy options are available for developing and improving health protection coverage and access taking into account the unique historical, social and economic developments in each country. To achieve sustainable progress, focusing on equity by prioritizing policy coordination across the social, health and economic sectors e.g. to fight the dual-causal relationship between ill health and poverty is of key importance. Such a move towards universal health protection would be a major step towards the world we all want and it can be done rapidly following the three step approach suggested by ILO in our just released policy brief Rapid Extension of Health Protection.
Dr Xenia Scheil-Adlung
Health Policy Coordinator
Social Protection Department
International Labour Organization