Jeffrey Sachs: SDGs and the Path to Universal Healthcare Coverage

We live in a dangerous world, according to Jeffrey D. Sachs, with “horrific” terrorism attacks such as those in Paris and Beirut challenging our trust in humanity. However, it is in these moments when the world must come together in solidarity and peace, as 150 world leaders are converging in Paris for the next two weeks to discuss a global plan of action for climate change. Last week, Sachs, a world-renowned economist and senior UN adviser, urged an auditorium of Northwestern University faculty and medical, law, and undergraduate students to engage with the world as problem solvers, not just as scientists or observers.

Sachs was the keynote speaker of a two-day interdisciplinary symposium on Equality, Development, and Globalization in Global Health on November 19 at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

On September 25, 2015 the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2016-2030, the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals that shaped and influenced aid and development around the world for the past 15 years.

The SDGs aim to achieve universal health and wellbeing by 2030, and Sachs believes that this goal is finally within reach. He focuses on the third SDG goal: “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, which addresses universal care, wellness and the absence of illness for the full human life cycle.

SDG Target 3.8 states: “Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”

But what is the path to universal healthcare coverage? Sachs analyzed this problem through the social, economical and environmental obstacles that prevent health for all. Poverty has been proven to be the most powerful social determinant of health, from the neighborhoods of Chicago to the Global South. In 1990, 37% of the world was living in poverty (having a GDP below $1.9 international price). In 2015, only 9.6% of the 7.5 billion people in the world live in poverty. However, this year, 6 million children out of the 2 billion humans who are poor or near poor, died before the age of 5, and this is a horrible and, worse, preventable tragedy.

Cost of health treatment has been decreasing as quality of care has been increasing in recent years. According to Sachs, primary health systems in low-income settings require $70-80 per person each year. It is this simple fact that leads Sachs to believe that universal healthcare coverage is within reach using our global health problem solving skills, as well as our pocketbooks. Sachs’s argument is that this $70 – the price of a concert ticket in Chicago, a new pair of headphones, or half of a chemistry textbook, can fill the financing gap to provide quality healthcare coverage for someone who has to walk 10 Km to a clinic lacking in staff and medicine. How this $70 is actually used in practice is something that he, as an economist, has left for the global health leaders of the world to figure out. Someday, these people will be us.

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