~Written by Hussain Zandam, Health Systems and Policy Researcher (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has made relative progress in improving access to essential healthcare. The next step, as suggested by many professionals in the development arena, is to consolidate on the gains and address the existing wide gap in quality healthcare among populations, especially in LMICs. This can be tackled by addressing the challenges faced by a range of vulnerable populations. Vulnerable groups are defined as social groups who experience limited resources and consequent high relative risk for morbidity and premature mortality. The group is represented by different categories of people including; women, children, elderly people, ethnic minorities, displaced people, people suffering from illnesses, people with disabilities and others. Together, these groups makes up a very significant population. For example, according to World Bank’s report on disability, PWDs makes up about 20% of world population equivalent to over billion people.
There is ample evidence confirming that access to effective health care is a major problem in the developing world. Many millions of people suffer and die from conditions for which there exist effective interventions. Vulnerable populations make up majority of these people. While some challenges are similar across different vulnerable people, others are specific to a particular vulnerable group. Selected factors to categorize groups should reflect specific subgroups of the population - such as poor rural women, or members of an ethnic minority - that require particular awareness due to their underlying social characteristics, which afford them less opportunity to be healthy than their more privileged counterparts. As a group, they also tend to be the least healthy and most probably have the most to benefit from health care. The fact that those most in need make least use of health care is widely considered inequitable.
Insufficient resources, inappropriate allocation, and inadequate quality are major impediments to the delivery of effective health care that reaches this group. The access problem cannot be solved without tackling each of these deficiencies. Even with limited resources, services should aim for equity, emphasizing the individual and their dignity rather than their merits, economic circumstances or ethnicity. Equitable access has been defined as ‘‘care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, geographical location and socio-economic status. Adequate access is also linked to timeliness and the quality of services.
According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/World Health Organization (OECD/WHO) DAC guidelines, the development of equitable financing through increasing pre-payment and risk pooling is one of four priorities for the development of a pro- poor health system delivering quality, accessible health services to the poor. The extension of health insurance cover is a long-term goal. At low levels of development, a more feasible policy is to maintain reliance on out-of-pocket payments but to grant exemptions to groups, principally the poor, for which price is a major deterrent to use. Policy initiatives can accelerate the process, however it is important for health policies to include not only commitments to core concepts of human rights ‘for all’, but also whether for vulnerable groups in a way which takes account of their ‘vulnerabilities’.
A general strategy can be defined at the global level, while policy measures should be heterogeneous, varying with the local conditions in which they are implemented. Finally, as nations and the entire world accept more and more responsibility for the health of human beings, the discussion on ‘‘universal health coverage’’ as the successor to health-related millennium development goals, global health should have a strong focus on the health of the poor and vulnerable.