Previewing the World Oral Health Forum with Dr Manu Raj Mathur
What is Universal Health Coverage (UHC)?
UHC means that every person, everywhere has access to quality health services without the risk of falling into financial hardship to pay for them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), UHC encompasses the full spectrum of essential, quality health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
UHC is not something that can be achieved overnight, and all countries will approach the challenge in different ways: there is no one size fits all. But countries at all income levels can take steps to move closer to achieving UHC and develop their own UHC package that fits the needs of their population.
"Better engagement with civil society, the private sector, and NGOs is absolutely essential to establish the needs and assure community involvement if oral health is to be incorporated successfully into UHC packages."
This will require committed and sustained advocacy on the part of oral and public health professionals along with other relevant stakeholders.
Why should oral health be integrated into UHC?
Oral diseases affect almost half of the world’s population (3.58 billion people) and many of these people do not have access to even basic and essential dental care. Furthermore, many communities across the globe are unaware that oral health is essential to general health and well-being at every stage of life.
"The integration of essential oral health services into UHC will help improve not only oral health but also general health outcomes and reduce inequalities in access to quality care."
During the World Oral Health Forum at the ADA FDI World Dental Congress in September, we will debate the evidence, strategies, and solutions that are essential to stop governments from neglecting and marginalizing oral health and provide a roadmap for making optimal oral health a global aspiration and an essential component of universal and primary health packages.
How can the oral health community dialogue with states to achieve UHC on a national level?
For one, the oral health community can urge states to add essential oral health services into the fabric of their primary care. They can also remind states that they should commit to provide, at a minimum, the WHO Basic Package of Oral Care, which includes access to emergency care and pain relief, affordable oral hygiene aids and practices, and tooth decay management.
"Along with the epidemiological argument, there is a need to provide an economic and human rights-based argument for achieving optimal oral health."
Efforts should also be made to interlink oral health with other pillars of sustainable development such as education, food systems, improved nutrition, hygiene, and urban design. The oral health community can also advocate for primary healthcare to include access to adequately trained oral health professionals and strong oral health systems based on a people-centered healthcare approach. There is a need for the oral health fraternity to build alliances with other key professional groups advocating for issues that are of common interest for public health.