Universal Health Care: An idea whose time has come

By Sarbyen Sheni


Universal Health Coverage (UHC) has become a pet subject recently as many countries align themselves to the global push for access to quality healthcare for all citizens, without financial hardship. Despite being familiar with this concept, the scholarship from the Advocacy Accelerator allowed me to comprehensively study UHC and strategic health purchasing. The course outline clearly spelled out the components and dimensions of UHC: financial protection, advocacy and the role of governance in advancing UHC. As an advocate, I found the subject of governance and advocacy particularly appealing as it is a core part of my work. A synergy between the government and CSOs can result in strategic change in the budgeting and prioritising of health in the different sectors. Advocacy provides that platform where the citizens’ specific needs can be presented and the needed steps taken, if there is a political will. To quote the Director-General, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “Universal Health Coverage is a political choice. It requires forging partnerships, convincing constituencies, exercising political power to make choices, and getting citizens’ feedback”. Good governance and leveraging of political will is therefore critical to achieving Universal Health Coverage.

At Education as Vaccine, the Nigerian non-profit organisation where I currently work, our mission is to work in partnership with children and young people to advance their rights to health and protection from all forms of violence. This is done by strengthening capacities, providing direct services and, influencing policies for improved quality of life. Our work naturally includes advocating for an improved policy environment where young people can access quality health services, especially sexual reproductive health services with no financial hardship. Leaving no one behind involves prioritising all strata of a country’s population. In Nigeria, there is dire need for prioritisation of the health and well-being of adolescents and young people.


One third of the population cannot simply be ignored


Nigeria has made the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) a priority and the Federal and States’ Ministries of Health, in collaboration with development partners and other stakeholders have launched the second National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDPII) and the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). The goal is to ensure that all Nigerians have universal access to comprehensive, promotive, preventive, curative and, rehabilitative, affordable, and quality health care, as well as to strengthen Primary Health Care and expand health insurance coverage in the country. Women, new-borns, and children up to the age of 5 are beneficiaries of the BHCPF, however, adolescents and young people are not. This is evidence that the welfare of adolescents and young people especially their sexual and reproductive health (SRH), has not been prioritised. This is despite the fact that nearly one-third of Nigeria’s total population is between the ages of 10 and 24. Young people are faced with key barriers to healthy lifestyles such as little to no access to comprehensive sexuality education, no right to family planning counselling/services and, little or no access to youth-friendly SRH, or mental health services. Under UHC, these barriers must be addressed to enable young people to survive, thrive, and transform their societies, in line with achieving UHC 2030. Having gained knowledge on financial protection and population coverage, I am more equipped to make strong cases to inspire policy changes and continue to push for the inclusion of adolescents and young people as beneficiaries of the health benefits package in Nigeria.


The UHC-SHP training for health managers and leaders was very timely since the Covid-19 pandemic exposed many gaps in healthcare. Many countries grappled with managing the outbreak. It also highlighted opportunities to address the gaps in the healthcare system and ensure better preparedness and access to health for people. Although face-to-face engagement has been drastically reduced, I actively participate in online campaigning and social media advocacy. I also look forward to conducting a step-down training for my team members on what I learned during this training. Finally, I am grateful to the Advocacy Accelerator and AMREF Africa for this opportunity. I am definitely more inspired to be a change-maker in my community.

Meet the author


Sarbyen Sheni is an enthusiastic young lady who passionate about development. She currently works with Education as a vaccine pushing for better policies for adolescent health and well-being as a program officer. She has taken certificate courses in project management and policy influencing. Sarbyen is an avid reader and a freelance writer with published articles & poems on medium and newspapers. She also volunteers with iGive initiative that is an intervention for blind children in secondary schools.