Universal healthcare in Bangladesh could be a reality
Acknowledging the critical role of health, the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed a resolution in 2012, urging countries to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage (UHC) – the idea that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality, affordable healthcare. The theme for this year's UHC Day focuses on investing in health systems for all. Health systems strengthening for universal health coverage and global health security are key high-level global public health objectives for healthier and safer societies.
Key to success is the right leadership and governance structure backed by a good health financing system. With the Healthcare Financing Strategy 2012-2032 in place, the country enjoys the right political will to build its healthcare sector. However, allocation to the health sector to date stands at less than 10 per cent of the total financial year budget and less than 1 percent of the GDP. To attain the vision of UHC, the government would need to refocus attention to the healthcare sector and increase budgetary allocation to meet the demands placed on delivery of the public healthcare system.
Closely related to the financing, is the ability to deliver good health services coupled with a well performing health workforce. The low budget allocation means there are shortages of trained human resource, medical equipment and supplies. This situation is not unique to Bangladesh but is prevalent across many emerging markets. It presents an opportunity to work with the private sector, to complement and address gaps in the healthcare sector. The private sector can offer supplementary care to fill in capacity and speciality gaps in order to create a robust and strengthened healthcare infrastructure that can increase access for local communities. Further, a focus on high quality care ensures improved outcomes for patients.
Private equity helps address this shortfall in public funds, by working with governments to provide long-term funding. Further, private investment also creates economies of scale for healthcare in emerging markets that can cut costs for consumers and increase quality, which will in turn deliver significant positive social impact to consumers while ultimately unlocking private capital towards other much needed healthcare investment.
Currently, individuals bear a large share of medical costs, with up to 67 percent of expenses borne by households through out of pocket payments. This system creates a significant financial burden for impoverished families, sometimes forcing them to either forego treatment or go into debt. To reduce this burden, the government must increase healthcare funding. To address this, robust financing structures are key. Innovative public-private partnerships could also address this.
The global COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for the government to reprioritise health in the national agenda. While there is no 'one size fits all' we must draw from existing evidence and chart a deliberate path towards this vision.
The writer is the CEO and Managing Director at Evercare Hospitals, Bangladesh.