Skip to Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues Full Site Menu Skip to main content
March 10, 2017

Responding To: Global Health and Migration

China and the United States Work Together on Promoting Universal Health Coverage and Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Professor Feng Cheng, Tsinghua University

In today's ever-changing globalization, people, goods, capital, technology and culture flow rapidly between different countries, bringing both unprecedented opportunities for development, and great challenges for public health. Emerging infectious diseases (Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Avian Influenza, etc.) continue to appear and dynamically mutate, while old infectious diseases (tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, etc.) resurge and continue to transmit. Situations for antibiotic abuse is grim, and multiple drug-resistant pathogens have increased. Inevitably, people's physical activity behavior patterns and lifestyles are changed, and chronic non-communicable diseases have begun to spread across developing countries, leaving those countries with the double burden of infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases.

At the end of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals 2015, 193 member states reached a consensus and adopted a new agenda at the UN General Assembly summit in September 2016 to promote world peace and prosperity and sustainable human development, namely, “Transforming our World - the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The agreement includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 specific targets, of which 13 specific targets for Goal 3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being,” are directly related to health. In addition, the specific objectives of other goals are also related to the health sector, such as the “nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures” in Goal 1, “End poverty”; ending all forms of malnutrition in Goal 2, “End hunger”; the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls and ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in Goal 5, “Gender equality”; and achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all in Goal 6, “Availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.”

In order to respond effectively to the global health challenges that we face today and to achieve the specific objectives of SDGs that are related to health, we will translate the vision of sustainable development in 2030 into reality. The author believes that the implementation of universal health coverage (UHC) technically guarantee the achievement of the objectives above. In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially proposed to achieve the UHC’s health system targets, noting that each citizen should have equal access to medical, prevention, health-care and rehabilitation services, and emphasizing the two basic elements—equal access and financial risk protection. In 2010 and 2013, the WHO published two reports, one on health systems financing and one on research for UHC, and proposed strategies and paths to advance the global UHC process. UHC covers four aspects—health systems, a health financing system, essential medicines and diagnostic technology, and medical and health personnel. UHC not only focused on individual clinical care, but on health promotion and disease prevention on both individual and population levels.

Health is the cornerstone for human development. Over the past half century, both China and the United States have made efforts to improve national health conditions in their countries. They continued to expand the coverage of health insurance and narrow the gap between different groups to improve peoples’ health. China and the United States had a long history of medical and health exchanges and cooperation. The Rockefeller Foundation and the China Medical Board established, in 1921, the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, introducing a model for modern hospitals and medical education into China. In 1979, the two governments signed the Health Protocol, implementing various cooperative projects in fields such as health policy, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, chronic diseases, tobacco control, diagnosis and treatment technology, drug research and development, and medical education. In recent years, China and the United States have been in close cooperation in the field of global health, fulfilling the responsibility of major powers. The two countries coordinated the prevention and control of Ebola hemorrhagic fever epidemic in West Africa, and helped Africa to establish centers for disease control and prevention to promote global health security. At present, the international situation is undergoing profound and complex changes. Policies of the new U.S. administration, the Belt and Road initiative proposed by China, the EU referendum in Britain, and elections in European countries will further leverage the evolution of the patterns of the world, affecting the development of global health and changing the process of human sustainable development. China and the United States, as the two largest economies in the world, should enhance understanding, form consensus, and work together to implement health-related work agreed in the China-U.S. High-level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. Both countries should cooperate with each other on the international stage of global health and help low-income countries to strengthen primary health care systems to promote universal health coverage and move towards the 2030 sustainable development goals.

Other Responses