Covid-19 and the Need for Universal Health Coverage - Doctors of the World

Covid-19 and the Need for Universal Health Coverage

Doctors of the World objects to the exclusion of migrants and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Declaration

As we observe the relentless increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths in the United States and around the world, it has become increasingly obvious how the virus has exposed the weaknesses in health care systems around the world, including, and maybe even especially, here in the U.S.

It is remarkable that the political debate over universal health coverage has moved with record speed to the forefront of the public’s consciousness, from something largely conceptual and highly partisan, to a real-time imperative, if not an outright emergency. 


In the middle of a global pandemic, millions of people who have lost their jobs have also lost their health coverage, joining the millions of others who never had coverage in the first place because they couldn’t afford it.  Suddenly, at the very moment we must reduce the spread of infection, the very idea that anybody could be left with no access to healthcare is unconscionable.  

Over the past year, the Doctors of the World/MdM International Network has participated in a global movement at the United Nations to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage (UHC). Last September, I represented MdM at the UN’s High Level Meeting on UHC, which resulted in the adoption of a Political Declaration urging all member nations to prioritize the uptake of UHC in their countries.

During the debate at the UN, we joined many other prominent voices in objecting to the exclusion of any mention in the Declaration of migrants, and of recognition of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, a core priority of our organization. We intend to work with others to press for amendments to the Declaration in order to correct these omissions. Last week, MdM announced its support for a rights-based approach to UHC based on six key pillars, which you can read here.

At the time of the UN debate last September, no one could have predicted that the world be engulfed just a few months later by a global pandemic of a highly aggressive respiratory virus with no cure or no vaccine.  The world as we knew it at that time is almost unrecognizable to us now.

We are all looking for silver linings, for touchstones that can inspire us and give us hope for a better world in the aftermath of COVID-19.  The realization of Universal Health Coverage may well turn out to be one of those silver linings.  

If that happens, the COVID-19 global pandemic will not be the first time that a public health emergency will have brought about or accelerated social change.  There are many examples of this, including the aftermath of the great influenza pandemic of 1918 which led to labor reforms and the expansion of women’s rights, or the AIDS crisis of the 1980s which led to broad public support of LGBT civil rights, and the passage of marriage equality in the US and multiple countries.

Please read our UHC position, and please support Doctors of the World in advocating for this important advance that will create a more just world by improving the health of every one of us.

Fraser Mooney

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