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KAMPALA, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Health officials in Uganda on Thursday said the east African country has renewed efforts to ensure health equity even among people in the most remote areas.

The country on Thursday was belatedly commemorating the World Health Day, which is globally marked on April 7 annually. The commemorations, which will last until Dec. 12, Universal Health Coverage Day, are held under the theme -- Health Equity - Building a Fairer and Healthier World.

Ruth Aceng, minister of Health, said ensuring health equity is one of the country's long-term strategies toward attaining Universal Health Coverage and hence achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Aceng said lack of health care equity is of increasing concern as countries transition to a situation of high infectious and non-communicable disease burdens.

In many African countries, including Uganda, there are substantial health care disparities with most health care resources located within urban centers, said Aceng. "This situation requires a robust Primary Health Care network to diagnose, treat, and monitor patients due to a long continuum of care."

UN Resident Coordinator in Uganda Rosa Malango said countries must now implement the commitments they made towards achieving universal health coverage, including increasing the share of the health budget to 15 percent of the total national budget. The health budget in Uganda only takes 5 percent of the national budget.

"We can build resilient health systems capable of ensuring that people obtain services when and where they need them," Malango said. "We can innovate and develop vaccines, health equipment and protective gear to increase access to care regardless of your location or status."

Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization (WHO) country representative to Uganda, said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has showed how critical it is to address health inequities.

"COVID-19 is just the latest example of why WHO is so focused on achieving Health for all. In WHO we know that it is important to create circumstances and social, economic and environmental conditions that allow people to fulfil their health potential," Woldemariam said. "People must be helped to overcome barriers that prevent them from accessing quality health services and to ensure that those services are available everywhere and to everyone."

Minister Aceng said over the years, government has continued to prioritize access to health care, noting that currently 86 percent of the country's population is now within a 5-km reach of either a public or private health facility.

"This is intended to bridge the gap of distance and access to health care as well as the economic opportunity costs associated with travel to the health facility," the minister said.

To reduce the high level of out-of-pocket health expenditure, the Ministry of Health has put in place a national health insurance scheme. According to the Ministry of Health data, out-of-pocket expenditure in Uganda is 40 percent, which is 25 percentage points higher than recommended WHO levels for out-of-pocket expenditures.

High out-of-pocket expenditure has led to a high incidence of catastrophic health spending among the poor in Uganda.

Aceng said the ministry has also revised the resource allocation formulae to enhance equity in the distribution of local government transfers across districts and health facilities.

Government has also continued to provide subsidies to private-not-for-profit health providers to lower user-fees, while health care is provided for free in the public health facilities since 2001.

The country has also upgraded over 200 Health Center IIs to Health Center IIIs in a bid to ensure that every sub-county has a health facility at the level of Health Center III. At Health Center III level, there are all forms of health care including maternity services.

Malango said the UN will continue to support Uganda to improve the health and well-being of its people through the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2021-2025 and the country's development programs. - Xinhua

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