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Speed up implementation of universal health care, Rebecca Akufo-Addo tells global powers

Rebecca Akufo-Addo said developing countries are nowhere near achieving universal health care as prescribed under Sustainable Development Goal 3

Rebecca Akufo-Addo has made a passionate appeal to global big powers to speed up efforts to ensure that universal health care as prescribed by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) is fully implemented.

Mrs Akufo-Addo made the appeal as she addressed a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday (21 September 2023) to consider universal health coverage.

Speaking to the theme of the meeting – “Universal Health Coverage: Expanding Our Ambition for Health and Well-Being in a Post-COVID World” – the First Lady said developing countries such as Ghana are nowhere near achieving universal health care, which makes the support of the developed world for SDG 3 urgent.

Reach everyone

“The word ‘universal’ in ‘universal health coverage’ is self-explanatory,” said Rebecca Akufo-Addo. “Health services must reach everyone regardless of geography or economic status.

“I have travelled the length and breadth of my country, read reports and participated in international meetings. I can safely conclude that universal cannot be applied to a significant portion of our health systems.

The First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, addresses the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on universal health care at the UN headquarters in New York City on Thursday (21 September 2023)

“I side with the World Health Organization, that health is a basic human right. Yet both global and national inequalities persist threatening our attainment of SDG 3. Geography, income, education, gender and age continue to exclude many from basic health services.

“A further threat is the rise of non-communicable diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic both exposed our health systems and derailed some of the progress countries had made in universal health coverage. So, the question I want to ask is: have we done enough or are we doing enough to achieve universal health coverage,” the First Lady said.

“You would think poor and disparate health care is a function of gross domestic product. But no; even in some developed economies, there are vast numbers with limited or no health care. We can all agree that we need to speed up and scale up universal health coverage.

“We need to encourage governments to show more commitment to increasing public funding for health. We need to strengthen primary health-care systems, to support the access to available health care for our people. We need more trained health workers, especially at the community level.

Guests at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on universal health care, UN headquarters, New York City (21 September 2023)

“The success of mass vaccination for childhood diseases in many countries, shows us that education and deployment of health personnel to even remote areas are the way to go. We cannot continue to push people into poverty because of illness,” Mrs Akufo-Addo further said.

Caring enough

Emphasising that she was calling on big players in the global health care space, Rebecca Akufo-Addo noted that “it is critical that developed countries commit to support developing countries in the production and distribution of generic essential drugs”.

“We are all here today, because we care about making health care universally accessible to all. Indeed, a lot of commitment has been made by the UN, WHO, governments and other stakeholders. So, the questions I want to ask in my conclusion are these.

“Do we care enough for that pregnant woman to get the full ante-natal care and access to quality health services in the process of giving life to another? Do we care enough to ensure children, the aged, the poor and other vulnerable groups have quality health care they can afford and within reach? Do we care enough for rich countries to make generic drugs produced and available in developing economies?

The First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, addresses the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on universal health care at the UN headquarters in New York City on Thursday (21 September 2023)

“Do we care enough to substantially invest in primary health care? Let’s care enough to make sure everyone irrespective of geography or economic status has access to basic health care. If we care enough, we will find the will and resources to do so,” Rebecca Akufo-Addo told guests at the UN high-level meeting in New York


SDG 3 (or Global Goal 3), focusing on “Good Health and Well-Being”, is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015.

The official aim of SDG 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. SDG 3’s targets focus on various aspects of healthy life and healthy lifestyle. Progress towards achieving the goals is measured using 21 indicators.

SDG 3 has 13 targets to set benchmarks of success. Nine of these are outcome targets, the first five being: reducing maternal mortality, ending all preventable deaths under five years of age, fighting communicable diseases, reducing mortality from non-communicable diseases and promoting mental health.

The rest are: preventing and treating substance abuse, reducing road injuries and deaths, granting universal access to sexual and reproductive care, family planning and education, and reducing illness and deaths from hazardous chemicals and pollution.

The four means of implementation for the targets are: implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; supporting research, development and universal access to affordable vaccines and medicines; increasing health financing and supporting the health workforce in developing countries; and improving early warning systems for global health risks.

SDG 3 aims ultimately to achieve universal health coverage and equitable access to health-care services for all men and women. It proposes to end preventable deaths among newborn children, infants and children under the age of five (child mortality) as well as end epidemics.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare

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