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Citizen power can generate the political will for Universal Health Coverage

Ricardo Lagos reflects on his experience as President of Chile, highlighting the vital role of citizen demand to generate the political commitment needed to realise health for all at the UHC Forum public event in Tokyo.

Ricardo Lagos UHC Forum Event Tokyo
(Credit: The Elders)

Good evening my dear friends,

After all we have listened to during the day and here this evening, the different personal stories, it is extremely difficult to conclude and to make this closing statement.

If we are not going to think about how to empower people top-down, then we won’t be able to make progress. People being empowered leads them to demand action from those who are in power. Let’s be realistic, it is in our own internal societies where we can produce change and, if we really want it, reach Universal Health Coverage.

The international world has spoken here today in Tokyo. It was the leaders, Japan and the Prime Minister, that opened the ceremonies here this morning, and after that, speaker after speaker represented the national level, the regional level and the community level. We also heard from NGOs, and the civil community. All communities have spoken today with one voice.

Because yes, political action is essential but political action is at the heart of democracy, and first we need democracy in our own internal society. In my own country, in Chile, there was a time that no democracy existed, and we had to stand up and fight to return to democratic values. And once we had democracy, then people began to ask, how are you going to go ahead to introduce a deep reform to the healthcare system?

We did it, not only through empowering people, but we did it with public policies. The key element was that we listened to patients and future patients: the future people that will need the dialysis, the future people that will need appendicitis operations. Before, they had no voice. How then are you going to produce public policies that are going to be held to account to produce results? And the results are how many appendicitis operations and how many dialysis treatments you have available.

I wanted to have a health reform that is accountable to the people and that means also participation, and to learn to listen to what the future patient has to tell you. You have to be a little humble, and learn what the people would like to tell us, political leaders. When you are talking about political leaders and what they can achieve, it is essential to understand that the only way to have political will is through the people delivering a very clear message.

I belong now to a group, The Elders, who were established and created by Nelson Mandela. As the video told you, next year will be 100 years since the birth of President Mandela. 100 years which we are planning to celebrate by walking together. Mandela’s life was a long walk to freedom. We ask, how are we going to make a long walk to freedom, yes, but also the long walk to health, a long walk to be free of fear and of illness. This long walk to freedom from The Elders is an invitation to all of us to action, to walk again, in the long journey that Mandela did all those years ago. It is possible for us today to walk together again in order to have Universal Health Coverage.

I say join us, walk together for health for all. When the world’s citizens speak as one and demand universal access to health services, governments will respond and we will truly be one step closer to UHC . And when we take steps towards UHC, we also take strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

To quote – and slightly embellish - the words of Nelson Mandela, I say here and now, let’s walk together to let freedom for health reign among us. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.

Our work | Universal Health Coverage

Universal Health Coverage

Universal Health Coverage means everyone receives the health care they need without suffering financial hardship. We believe this is a goal all countries can reach.

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