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Apr 10, 2019

Moving towards universal health coverage – health is wealth

Estimated reading time: 5-7 minutes


For this year’s World Health Day on 7 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on universal health coverage (UHC), with a special priority on strengthening primary healthcare.


At Philips, we are convinced that strengthening primary health, with outreach into the community and a well-functioning referral chain, is the most efficient and effective way to improve access to good-quality healthcare, thereby paving the way for universal health coverage.


Economic growth and good health go hand in hand. In fact, being healthy is a prerequisite for education, personal development and employment – health is wealth. This is why extending access to healthcare and the ability to lead a healthy life are fundamentally important challenges for all countries to address. 


Yet, according to the World Health Organization and the World Bank, over half the population of our planet still lacks access to essential health services. Universal health coverage is not only a problem for people in emerging economies, but also in countries with a well-developed health system, where for a wide range of reasons – including affordability and geographic remoteness – patients may experience very different levels of care.


The drive for affordable and effective healthcare delivery is also fueling a shift from fee- to value-based care – a system that aims to extend access to care and improve patient outcomes at lower cost. 


Technology is foundational to value-based care, whether it be an informatics infrastructure that allows us to actually measure value by systematically tracking outcomes and costs, or telehealth platforms that bring care closer to the patient, wherever they reside. 

But digital and technological innovation on their own are enough to achieve access to healthcare for all. Achieving that goal will necessitate matching innovation with in-country, transformational leadership, new business models and financing.


Recently, I had a unique opportunity to take the dialogue around access to care a step further when stakeholders from around the world gathered at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). I hosted a session with 20 key opinion leaders from across the global health ecosystem, to discuss the challenges, issues and progress being made in improving access to healthcare for all. 


During a lively dialogue, we had a great opportunity to connect and deepen our understanding of some of the many challenges that the transformation of healthcare on a global scale is confronted with. 


The main conclusions:  


  • Healthcare should not be considered a cost that needs to be minimized, but an investment in society that needs to be optimized. 
  • Transforming healthcare is not only about introducing digital, connected technology – it’s also about taking into account societal factors and shaping the conditions for patients to actively engage in the decision-making process around their care pathway. 
  • Key to the transformation of healthcare systems — and to the realization of the United Nations’ healthcare-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — is the pressing need for innovative financing and business models.
  • To aim for universal health coverage in a scalable, efficient way, a better collaboration model is required that brings together all the capacity – whether it is public or private – to really serve the needs of a population.


It was generally agreed that we cannot afford to wait on each other to take action – courage is required to transform the health system on a global scale, and we need to step up and make progress in 2019. 


To achieve breakthrough progress, we must work together in broad stakeholder coalitions that combine government, private sector, NGO and investor expertise with sharing financial risks and benefits as part of a sustainable business model. That is why Philips is taking an active role in convening stakeholders, developing solutions and collaborating with partners to support achieving universal health coverage by 2030. 


Let me give an example: Philips and Amref Health Africa are collaborating to improve healthcare systems in Africa, moving from a donor-based relationship to a shared value partnership that leverages the skills and capabilities of each organization. Last year, together with Amref, we started collaboration with the Makueni County Government in Kenya to test an innovative model for primary care. The test will run for one year with the goal to improve access to high-quality, financially-sustainable primary healthcare for 20,000 county residents. Under the agreement, Amref Health Africa will offer capacity building and facilities management, and we as Philips are responsible for providing the healthcare solutions in the clinics. Makueni County is responsible for policy, regulation, provision of human resources and pharmaceutical supplies. The Netherlands development bank FMO is the financial co-developer in testing and scaling up this new business model. 

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Let me summarize by saying that Philips is keen to play a lead role in innovating solutions and business models for primary care, leveraging technology to provide access to quality care. We believe that public-private partnership is the key to making progress whereby we all rally to achieve a common, high-priority goal: providing access to quality and affordable healthcare for all, everywhere.

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Frans van Houten

Frans van Houten

CEO Royal Philips, April 1, 2011 – October 14, 2022

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