Although each nation needs to choose its own path toward achieving universal health coverage (UHC), the likelihood of success will increase significantly if the UHC agenda is addressed at the regional level, fostering integration and cooperation that goes beyond national borders. UHC will not be possible without coordination and cooperation on the regional level.
Ms. Joelle Mumley
UHC at the Regional Level
Countries are impacted by the choices, policies, successes and failures of the nations that share their borders. This is especially true of public health, as we have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is also exciting potential when it comes to regional collaboration. The World Bank states that regional integration, through cooperation in areas of regulation, information sharing, technology, policy and provision of common public goods, promotes economic progress.
Regional groupings, such as the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), play significant roles in integrating countries who share various economic, cultural, or geographical characteristics. Cooperation at borders will be vital when it comes to stopping the spread of disease, not to mention that countries within the same region are often facing similar challenges.
Regulatory frameworks that allow for integration can result in more fluid movement of human resources and vital medications across borders, meaning that each country can benefit from the progress of their neighbors. Health workers who are trained in one country should be able to work in a neighboring country without having to repeat education or licensing requirements. The pooling of resources to invest in training health workers has been shown to be effective in the EAC, for example.
Additionally, economic incentives to buy pharmaceutical products from neighboring African countries, as opposed to importing from Europe or China, benefits both producers and consumers in the health sector. Information sharing helps in crisis situations, such as potential future pandemics, but also promotes policies and regulations that are data-driven, backed up by comprehensive and accurate information.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the fact that disease knows no borders. When our neighbors suffer, so do we. As we look toward the future, we know that this is the case also for building resilient health systems that are able to meet the health needs of our populations and help each country achieve UHC. Therefore, it is essential to increase collaboration and cooperation at the regional level.
This article is the second of a three-part series. Part 1 addresses the role of national governments. Part 3 will address the role of continental organisations in achieving UHC.