Universal Health Coverage is the Blueprint for Healthcare as a Human Right

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day is celebrated on December 12th each year. It is an international day of activism and awareness building promoted by the World Health Organization, Rockefeller Foundation, and other organizations advocating for healthcare as a human right.

For Integrate Health, everyday is UHC Day. It is at the core of our work and the center of our mission. Throughout the 14 years of our existence our vision has been the same: to promote healthcare as a human right. We believe that healthcare should be the same for everyone, everywhere. Period.

This past UHC Day was very special because it presented an opportunity both to celebrate this vision, and to emphasize the “universality” of UHC, to draw a direct link between our work in Togo and domestic efforts to ensure health for all. It also marked the first time in my career that I had the opportunity to speak on a panel of all women!

We were fortunate to collaborate with the ArtWorks Project and photographer Zoe Rain in Chicago to bring attention to UHC and to the unique Integrate Health model. As an organization that prides itself on being women-led, the diverse and dynamic panel discussion held on December 12th was a perfect compliment to the “Women of Togo” exhibit.

My colleagues Dr. Judith Cothran, Founder and CEO of Women’s Health of Chicago, Dr. Nataka Moore, Director of Population Mental Health at Chicago Global Health Alliance, and Dr. Julie Darnell, Dept. of Public Health Sciences at Loyola University Chicago, connected the dots between the need for and the challenges to achieving UHC domestically. This broad ranging topic centered on lessons that an urban environment in the heartland of the U.S. could draw from our efforts in Togo, West Africa.

It became clear in the discussion, which spanned the globe geographically and stretched the common definition of health, that UHC was in fact a blueprint for actualizing the vision of healthcare as a human right. There were parallels between accessing mental health treatment on the westside of Chicago following clinic closures and accessing healthcare at a hospital in West Africa when fees cumulate quickly. Maternal and child health stats for poor mothers in disadvantaged neighborhoods on Chicago’s southside are comparable to those we address in Togo.

Integrate Health has developed a replicable primary healthcare delivery system that includes four components with proven success in Togo. It seemed evident from the discussion these components were transferrable to other communities in the U.S. and internationally. This comprehensive system was showcased as part of the exhibit with stories highlighting aspects of the model throughout the portraits (Listen to the Description on Worldview).

Basically, each component operates to remove a barrier to lifesaving care. Our model is composed of clinical capacity-building, community health workers, supply chain & infrastructure improvements, and user fee removal. That means training and mentoring professional staff, recruiting and training a cadre of local women (& the occasional guy) to function as frontline health workers expanding care into the community, improving access to medications and treatment, enhancing the quality of the clinics providing it, and removing cost as a barrier. Taken together, we believe these four components can make UHC possible — in Togo and elsewhere. The model can be replicated at a cost of only $10 per capita with a 10:1 return on investment based on the benefit per life saved.

Our mission is to end preventable deaths in forgotten communities whether they are on Chicago’s westside or in West Africa. We know what it will take to achieve this mission. We know the components, we know the strategy, and we know the approach. Our vision has never been clearer.

Jennifer Schechter is co-founder and executive director of Integrate Health, a nonprofit healthcare organization in Togo, West Africa.

Jennifer Schechter is co-founder and executive director of Integrate Health, a nonprofit healthcare organization in Togo, West Africa.