A great step forward for access to healthcare in Myanmar

Myanmar and countries around the world can build resilient systems that can tackle many challenges at once.


Yesterday, Myanmar took one big step forward on the path to achieving universal health coverage when State Counsellor Daw Aung Sung Su Kyi launched its new National Health Plan 2017-21. This is the first, medium-term NHP of the democratically-elected government.

What I was most excited to see was the vision of guaranteeing an Essential Package of Health Services to the entire population of Myanmar by 2030, moving the country on the path toward universal health coverage. It focuses not just on disease priorities but also on health inequities – a key challenge globally.

The Plan also puts primary health care investments at its core – improving service delivery, infrastructure, health workforce and financing. Importantly, the Plan was drafted through a consultative process, bringing together stakeholders from across health and health-related sectors, including Ethnic Health Organisations (EHOs) in an integrated service delivery approach.

This approach resonated with me because I’ve seen it work. As a Minister of Health in Ethiopia from 2005 to 2012, we, like Myanmar, had a shared vision that no matter where in the country people lived, they would have access to prevention and treatment options. And to deliver on this, we too invested across the health system – in infrastructure, human resources, pharmaceutical supply chains, integrated information management and emergency preparedness.

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We also mobilized 38,000 health extension workers from communities across Ethiopia through the Health Extension Programme, a community-based and community-driven approach with women at the core to promote healthy behaviors and expand access to basic health care services. With these and other investments, we were able to achieve nearly all the Millennium Development Goals.

There will of course be challenges as Myanmar sets off on this new path – achieving universal health coverage is an ambitious goal.

First, it will be important to invest in service availability and readiness to rapidly deliver the Essential Package, including training new providers. Second, the country will need to determine how best to finance these efforts. Here is one area where I believe the World Health Organization can help, documenting where other countries have had successes and helping countries like Myanmar learn from their lessons.

Most importantly, these are worthy challenges to take on, and ones that can be overcome. I believe that all roads lead to universal health coverage, from non-communicable disease to infectious disease to emergency preparedness, and that is why I’ve made universal health coverage my top priority if elected Director General of the World Health Organization. By focusing our energies here, Myanmar and countries around the world can build resilient systems that can tackle many challenges at once.

Again, I commend my brothers and sisters in Myanmar for taking this significant step forward in ensuring all of its citizens can live healthy, productive lives.

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