Achieving Universal Health Coverage means responding to the health needs of women with disabilities #UHCDay
By Sandra Mwarania
Did you know today is International Universal Health Coverage Day? The rallying call to action under this year’s theme is ‘leave no one’s else health behind: invest in health systems for all.’ At the heart of realizing Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is the intention to ensure all people can access quality health services when and where they need them. In principle, UHC means fairer, accessible and more affordable healthcare. Kenya made the commitment to achieve UHC by 2022 after it was officially launched through a widely celebrated and equally critiqued pilot phase in 2018. Three years later, the UHC roll-out process in Kenya is approaching its final lap, and one key question in people’s mind is whether the promise of equitable healthcare will be fully realized.
A good place to start interrogating the attainment of health equity is by engaging those who have been traditionally left out from accessing quality healthcare services. How is their healthcare access now? In the recent past, women with disabilities in Kenya have begun to boldly share their health-seeking experiences and have also identified the various healthcare access barriers they encounter. Through a global listening exercise dubbed ‘What Women Want Campaign’ and organized by White Ribbon Alliance, women with disabilities revealed their demands for quality reproductive and maternal healthcare: respectful and dignified care; better-supported healthcare workers; as well as close and fully functional health facilities, emerged as top priorities. At the sub-national level, women with disabilities living in Bungoma and Makueni Counties are now being supported to self-advocate for inclusive healthcare in target health facilities by demanding for an adequate number of disability-competent health workers and disability-specific health infrastructure – including the availability of assistive devices, disability-friendly toilets and adjustable maternity beds.
The successful delivery of UHC in Kenya will need to take into account the diverse and lived realities of vulnerable and marginalized communities. The implementation process must prioritize the self-expressed concerns and needs of those who already have challenges accessing quality healthcare. Health equity is central to achieving UHC, which means concerted efforts must be devoted to targeting those who are hardest to reach or have been previously left out.
To improve health system responsiveness to the needs of women with disabilities, national and county governments should invest in rights-based health service delivery, especially for reproductive and maternal health services, to ensure it promotes dignity and is non-discriminatory. Resources should also be directed to training health workers in disability awareness and to facilitating health facility layouts and equipment that are disability-friendly. More generally, accountability mechanisms, such as feedback channels and grievance redress mechanisms, must be formally integrated into the UHC design to ensure that vulnerable and marginalized groups are empowered to engage in public participation. A holistic approach should also be applied to enable families and communities to actively participate in advocacy efforts to promote access to quality healthcare by women with disabilities.
These strategic actions will bring us a step closer to deliberately investing in health systems that leave no one’s health behind. #WhatWomenWant #HealthForAll #UHCForMe #UHCDay
The writer is the Advocacy and Programs Manager at White Ribbon Alliance Kenya. Email: SMwarania@whiteribbonalliance.org
About White Ribbon Alliance:
Founded in 1999, White Ribbon Alliance is a locally led, globally connected grassroots movement advocating for the health and rights of women, girls, and newborns. We actively work in partnership with women, men, their families and communities, professionals and practitioners from diverse fields and all sectors of government. We use many approaches, all of which put citizens at the center so that health policies, programs and practices are driven by lived experiences.
WHITE RIBBON ALLIANCE contact: Kimberly Whipkey, firstname.lastname@example.org