WASHINGTON, DC — Haiti announced its plans to implement universal health coverage in 2018. With the hope of reaching this goal by 2030, this initiative became the country’s top priority. However, the COVID-19 pandemic largely shifted focus in the realm of healthcare. Now, there is a higher priority on stopping the spread of the virus and administering COVID-19 vaccines. As the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, achieving universal healthcare in Haiti is a difficult yet necessary feat.
The Current Healthcare System
The current sector of health in Haiti faces many challenges, including a lack of investment in public health. A 2017 World Bank report found that Haiti’s annual per capita public health spending fell at approximately US$13. This was significantly lower than some of their neighboring countries. Cuba’s public health spending, for example, fell at US$781.
The U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) cites the following factors as additional struggles for the Ministry of Health (MOH): “weak governance and coordination, geographic and financial barriers to access health services, shortages of essential medicines and the difficulty of attracting and retaining qualified health professionals”. About 47% of the population receives formal care through the current health system.
Healthcare after Natural Disasters
In addition to the systemic and financial barriers to Haitian healthcare, the country is also vulnerable to natural disasters. These disasters leave many in need of immediate care and assistance. For example, the 2010 earthquake destroyed 60% of the health system and left more than 200 patients receiving care in about 1,000 sessions per week.
Over 10 years later, much of the international assistance has dwindled and COVID-19 continues to infect Haitian residents. From January 2020 to August 2021, there were over 20,000 confirmed cases and over 500 deaths. Fortunately, Haiti recently began its first vaccination campaign in July 2021. Haiti administered over 5,000 doses, but the need for achieving universal healthcare in Haiti is still dire.
Universal Healthcare for a Better Future
Even with COVID-19, the limitations of poverty and the burden of natural disasters, Haiti remains on track to achieving universal health coverage by 2030. According to the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Partnership, the MOH National Health Strategy 2021-2022 is “aligned with the National Development Plan guided by the Sustainable Development Goals.” The strategy largely prioritizes the implementation of universal health coverage. Through the UHC Partnership and the Health Strategy, Haiti aims to strengthen the health system. In addition, they want to redefine the model through which Haiti provides care. Efficiency in the delivery of essential drugs, along with efficiency in post-natural disaster assistance, are among the plans for an improved health system.
Limitations to Universal Healthcare in Haiti
The prospect of achieving universal healthcare in Haiti is certainly possible, yet must be accompanied by changes in geographic access and funding. About 37% of the population cites distance as a reason for failing to seek health services. Those living in rural areas especially have limited access to quality health services. So, many residents turn to traditional medicine. Services from traditional practitioners and healers are more accessible. However, they don’t follow formal provisions and don’t guarantee high quality.
In regards to funding, hospitals and health facilities often rely on donors and patient fees to stay up and running, which places financial strain on users. Donor funds make up the largest proportion of the total health expenditure at 56.7%, while patient fees comprise 30.1% and the government contributes 9.7%.
An increase in the government budget, greater access to health facilities, improved service and the UHC Partnership certainly make the idea of achieving universal healthcare in Haiti by 2030 much more viable. With hard work, this feat will improve the quality of life for many Haitians and bring about a better future.
– Cory Utsey