Following is the text of UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ video message launching the policy brief “COVID and Universal Health Coverage”, in New York today:
Nine months since we first heard of COVID‑19, the pandemic has claimed more than 1 million lives and infected more than 30 million people in 190 countries. Infections are rising and there are troubling signs of new waves.
Much about the virus remains unknown, but one basic fact is clear: the world was not prepared. The pandemic has revealed utterly inadequate health systems, yawning gaps in social protection, and major structural inequalities within and between countries.
We must all draw the hard lessons of this crisis. One of those lessons is that underinvestment in health can have a devastating impact on societies and economies. The pandemic is costing the global economy $375 billion a month. Some 500 million jobs have been lost so far. Human development is going into reverse, for the first time since we started measuring it in 1990.
COVID-19 has shown that universal health coverage, strong public health systems and emergency preparedness are essential to communities, to economies, to everyone. That is the backdrop to the policy brief we are launching today.
At least half the world’s people do not have access to the health services they need. Some 100 million people are driven into poverty each year by catastrophic health‑care costs. This huge gap in health coverage is one reason why COVID‑19 has caused so much pain and suffering.
Universal health coverage requires Governments to step up investment in common goods for health, including surveillance and risk communication, so that the world never faces such a situation again. It also requires public health programmes to be inclusive and equitable, without financial barriers. Health treatment should not depend on financial status.
All countries have agreed to work towards universal health coverage as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But, we cannot wait 10 years. We need universal health coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises.
That is just 1 of the 5 major recommendations in this policy brief. The second is to control further transmission of COVID‑19 through proven public health measures and a coordinated global response. The third recommendation is to protect delivery of other health services during the pandemic. COVID‑19 is indirectly killing people with heart disease and cancer, as well as those it infects. And access to mental health services and sexual and reproductive health programmes cannot be compromised.
Fourth, we need to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to future COVID‑19 vaccines, tests and treatment. Funding the ground‑breaking ACT‑accelerator is the fastest way to end the pandemic. And fifth, we must strengthen preparedness. That means involving all sectors of society and investing in alert systems that trigger action by health authorities.
Pandemic preparedness and response are global public goods that require large‑scale investments. Universal health coverage comes at a cost, but the price is cheap, when we consider the alternative. I urge all to speed up and scale up investment in universal health coverage and in stronger health systems, starting immediately.