Carrying on the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Ensuring Equality in Health Coverage

By Noha Zeitoun, Content Intern, PSI

As we pause to remember the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to human rights and equality in the United States and the world, we can reflect on how his legacy also resonates with the call for universal health coverage (UHC). In the past year, we’ve seen an incredible push for UHC on the basis that health care is not a commodity or privilege, but a human right. UHC means ensuring that every person, everywhere, has access to essential and quality health care they need without causing undue financial hardship.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966

The inequality in health coverage means that 400 million people do not have access to essential health services, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Among them are millions of women and girls who are still unable to reach their full potential because of persistent health, social and gender inequalities and health system inadequacies. Not to mention, without UHC, millions of people around the world are tipped, or pushed further, into poverty when they or a family member become ill and needs medical care.

Health access disparity disproportionality affects minorities, especially women and children. Many of the world’s poorest access care through the private sector, which must be included to achieve complete UHC. Carrying on Dr. King’s legacy means strengthening and ensuring health systems that are affordable and accessible by all, especially for those most at risk. This is particularly the case when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive health services, notably voluntary family planning. We’ve made significant progress; yet no less than 225 million women and girls around the world still lack access to modern contraception.

“Life’s most urgent question is: What are we doing for others?”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama, 1957

Next week at the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), global health leaders will highlight the importance of incorporating family planning into universal health coverage. UHC is necessary to making comprehensive voluntary family planning – including access to counseling, information and a wide range of contraceptive methods – affordable and available to a greater number of women and girls. Without this, women and girls in low- and middle-income countries are left making the choice between their contraceptive needs and basic necessities.

As we reflect on Dr. King’s message, let us continue to work towards equality and eradicate injustice in health care through our own advocacy and support for universal health coverage. Ultimately by achieving UHC, we will be in a better position to end extreme poverty in our lifetime.