Speeches & Transcripts

Remarks by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at the Universal Health Coverage in Africa Side Event

August 26, 2016

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development Nairobi, Kenya

As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. It’s an honor to be here with President Kenyatta, Prime Minister Abe, and the other Excellencies and partners as we explore ways to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage in Africa. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the governments of Kenya and Japan, the World Health Organization, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for convening this event with us.

As we meet today, the world is on the brink of a new era. The coming digital revolution will spark new industries and value new skills. We don’t yet know what lies ahead, but the experts say it will be a more competitive future, in which so-called soft infrastructure such as health care and education will be just as critical to the economy as hard infrastructure—roads and bridges and energy projects. We must do all we can to enable the next generation to reach its potential and fully participate in the economy of the future.

That’s why our conversation today is so important. Universal health coverage can help Africa step boldly into this new era and onto the world stage. The evidence tells us there is no better prescription for health, wealth and security as a health care system that provides equal coverage to every single person.

We have in this room people who have seen the benefits of UHC first-hand. Japan has been a pioneer in universal health coverage and its own experience explains why it has been such a passionate advocate for UHC. After World War II, half of Japan was living near the poverty line. The government set a goal to double economic growth and established universal health insurance in 1961. Household incomes doubled between 1960 and 1967—in just seven years—and health outcomes also improved. Many believe equitable access to quality basic health care played a major role in helping the country achieve economic success. In the past 70 years, Japan’s life expectancy has increased by 30 years and health outcomes are among the best in the world.

Prime Minister Abe has led the call globally for health care systems that leave no one behind and whose costs do not impose hardships on people or drive them back into poverty. Strong and resilient health systems that can respond to public health crises protect all of us—rich and poor alike. And they will help us meet the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

At this event, and at tomorrow’s thematic session on promoting resilient health systems, we have an unprecedented opportunity to explore how every country in Africa can achieve universal health coverage and why it’s important to do so.

We believe that investing in universal health coverage is an investment in the future. That’s why we are announcing today that we will commit up to $15 billion dollars over the next five years to accelerate universal health coverage in Africa.

Let me tell you three reasons why we so strongly support universal health coverage.

First, UHC confronts poverty head on by protecting people from major disease outbreaks and from catastrophic health expenses. Our Framework for Action report prepared for this meeting finds that nearly 35 million people in Africa were impoverished by health expenses in 2014.

Take Bindeh, a mother of five we met in Tree Planting, Sierra Leone. Bindeh has just a fourth-grade education. When she lost her husband during the Ebola epidemic, she didn’t know how her family would survive. Cash payments supported by the World Bank helped her and her neighbors pay for food and schooling for their children. They also helped them start new trades. Bindeh used the money to start a soap-making business, and with the profits, moved her family to a house with electricity, and a roof that didn’t leak. She bought a freezer, which she uses to chill soda and then sell it. All of her children are back in school. They’re proud of their mother, and their mother sees a bright future for her children.

Second, UHC accelerates inclusive growth. The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health estimated that gains in survival resulting from universal health coverage accounted for about a third of economic growth between 2000 and 2011 and represented a greater than 10-to-1 return on investment.

And third, UHC stimulates the health sector and creates jobs. The health sectors of Africa grew at about 6 percent a year over the last decade, while the overall economies grew at 5 percent. The Framework for Action report estimates that expanded access to health services will create more than 4 million jobs by 2030.

These are just some of the reasons universal health coverage is a smart investment. Each country can take its own path toward UHC, and we can help in several ways. For example, the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman and Every Child aims to help countries overcome the near half a trillion dollar financing gap required to eliminate preventable child and maternal mortality by 2030. We also are working with partners in identifying the best ways to scale up interventions to improve nutrition and early child development and eliminate childhood stunting.

When we set time-bound targets, we can drive progress and reach goals such as ending preventable maternal mortality and stunting. We also know that we need to substantially improve our ability to monitor our progress.

To that end, we welcome the government of Japan’s decision to support the annual production of the World Bank and World Health Organization global monitoring report on universal health coverage, with a strong focus on Africa. And with the government of Japan’s support, the World Bank Group and WHO next year in Tokyo will cohost the first annual meeting on monitoring progress toward universal health coverage. We are extremely grateful to the government of Japan for its continued support for the UHC agenda.

Many African countries know well the steps required to put in place universal health coverage. Countries have already shown that they can make major gains in a very short time, whether it’s the elimination of tropical diseases such as guinea worm or river blindness; or the scale-up of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV; or the innovative deployment of community health workers; or, most recently in the skies with drones delivering life-saving medical supplies to remote health facilities. Countries now must build on this ingenuity to overcome common challenges. It’s urgent that we increase our investments in universal health coverage. Doing so will lead to healthier lives and healthier economies. I very much look forward to working together with all of you to give everyone, everywhere, access to quality and affordable health care. Thank you very much.