Cardinal Turkson: Universal health coverage needed to build healthier world

In his message to mark World Health Day, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Human Integral Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson, highlights the importance of building more equitable and more just health systems.


Building a fairer, healthier world for all is the theme for World Health Day 2021, which is celebrated annually on April 7.

The day was established by the first World Health Assembly in 1948 with the goal of raising awareness on a specific health theme and to highlight issues of great urgency and priority in the world of health.

Pandemic crisis

In his message to mark World Health Day, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Human Integral Development, describes 2020 as a “watershed” year in which the COVID-19 pandemic “has profoundly affected our lives and our society”

It has also been “harshest on the most vulnerable communities, who are most exposed to the disease, with less chances of having access to quality healthcare services,” he says.

Cardinal Turkson underlines, “We are experiencing a crisis, but as Pope Francis recalls, we do not come out from a crisis the same as before, either we come out better or worse.”  This difficult year, he says, “also reminded us of the importance of human solidarity and the awareness that no one saves him- or herself on their own.”

A widening gap

Addressing how health pertains to the value of justice, the Prefect emphasizes how the pandemic “has widened the large gap between countries that are more advantaged and those with less, in obtaining access to health care and medical treatments.” This, he laments, “is a regrettable fact that persists despite the condemnation of this situation on several occasions by various institutions.”

The Cardinal continues by expressing the hope that “‘the right to health care and the right to justice ought to be reconciled by ensuring a fair distribution of healthcare facilities and financial resources, in accordance with the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.’”

Integral health

Cardinal Turkson points out that “more equitable and more just health systems can be built on these two principles. But in order to do this, it is necessary to first of all rethink the concept of health, as integral health.”

Focusing on this area, the Cardinal writes, “Acquiring this integral view allows us to understand that ensuring that everyone receives the necessary health care is an act of justice, that is, giving the person what is in his/her right.”

“Those who care for the ill and suffering must have this overview,” he says, “continually inspired by a holistic vision of care.”

Showing compassion

In the message, the Prefect pays tribute to caregivers who, “despite the many limitations and shortcomings of the health systems, have not given up fighting for the health of their patients.”

He praises their compassion, which he says “is also a privileged way to promote justice” and human dignity.

All in the same boat

Cardinal Turkson underlines that “in the current pandemic experience we discover that we are brothers and sisters,” adding that in true fraternity, individualism and selfishness can be defeated by the reaffirmation that only the search for the good of all can lead to good for me.”

The pandemic, in particular, he highlights, “has taught us that health is a common good so that by protecting one’s own health, the health of the other and of the entire community are protected as well.”

Issue of mental health

In his message, the Cardinal gives special attention to the issue of mental health, which he says, has been “severely put to the test in this pandemic period.”

He also says the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has drawn up a document, which can be consulted on its website, entitled: “Accompanying people in psychological distress in the context of the COVID-19 pandemicMembers of one body, loved by one love.

Better support

Putting the spotlight on those in positions of authority, Cardinal Turkson stresses that “those who govern as well as economic and health policy makers have a responsibility to ensure better working conditions for healthcare workers.”

He also underlines that greater attention should also be given to healthcare institutions, “in particular to those without financial support from the state, such as those of the Church and other faith communities, which in various corners of the earth, often remote, are the only means for guaranteeing access to healthcare.”

Universal healthcare

The Cardinal concludes his message by emphasizing that health inequalities are unfair, but he also writes that they are “preventable through strategies that aim to ensure equal access to health care, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.”

“It is desirable,” he says, “that universal health coverage be guaranteed to all individuals and all communities. This is an urgent goal to be achieved in order to build a fairer, healthier world, a better world, a world of peace that we dream and believe is still possible.”

By Vatican News staff reporter

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