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The Academy of Medical Sciences and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology of Egypt are convening a policy workshop on Achieving Universal Health Coverage in the Middle East and North Africa: the role of research online on the 16-17 December 2020.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least half of the world’s population still lack full coverage of essential health services. The global commitment towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) has been affirmed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UHC means that all individuals and communities should have access to the full spectrum of essential and effective health services including promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care without suffering financial hardship.

UHC is an important step towards social inclusion and equity. Many countries are making progress towards achieving UHC, with most low-and middle- income countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, in the process of designing and implementing strategies to ensure their whole population has access to essential health services, which must be of high quality.

Establishing UHC depends on many governmental departments and aspects including improving infrastructure, training the healthcare workforce, promotion, prevention and community orientated care, increasing the number and quality of health facilities from hospitals to local clinics, developing information systems and ensuring the supply of medicines and medical technologies. However, a multitude of barriers and challenges exist which prevent the achievement of UHC, many of which are region specific, including contextual challenges inflicted by political instability and a spiralling burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s). Some challenges and barriers are shared however, such as those posed by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Research is vital in developing the technology, systems and services needed to achieve UHC, and global support can help accelerate the attainment of this goal, through global and regional level research, information gathering, financial investment and technical assistance.

Current data also suggests that in many low- and middle-income countries, the quality of care provided is sub-optimal. Quality of care is defined by the degree to which health services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes, are person-centred and are in line with current health research knowledge. Furthermore, measuring and evaluating progress provides valuable insight for policymakers and is essential to improvement. Quality of care can be measured by seven elements of quality; effectiveness, safety, timeliness, equity, person-centeredness, care integration and efficiency. Many barriers exist which prevent health care workers, providers and policymakers from offering high quality health care, and research and evaluation is essential to determining opportunities and challenges, and assessing progress.

An opportunity exists for quality of care to be built into the foundation of UHC and into policies, processes and institutions as health systems are developed and services scaled up. Further research, including policy and implementation research, is necessary to understand these barriers, better and drive innovation, and develop new approaches to transform low-quality health systems into high-quality systems.

The main objective of this workshop is to reflect upon the state of progress towards UHC in the Middle East and North Africa and to explore opportunities to use current gaps to advance the UHC research agenda in the region, in order to address key challenges and achieve quality UHC. In doing so, it will consider the role that research can play in addressing critical questions around healthcare coverage and in improving the quality of care provided, and how researchers can engage with policymakers across sectors to support the development, implementation and monitoring of evidence informed policies. The workshop will provide a platform for countries in the region to share knowledge of what hasn’t worked and of successful approaches which have led to improved health coverage or increases in quality of care. To achieve this, our aims are as follows:

  • Provide a platform for experts to revisit the UHC research agenda in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Bring together evidence from countries in the region on progress towards effective UHC and explore shared opportunities to evaluate and learn from current research gaps to advance key components of the UHC agenda.
  • Identify country specific and shared research challenges and barriers that undermine progress to UHC.
  • Identify actions, tools and strategies that could support a reshaped research agenda, accelerate progress towards delivery of high quality care for all and promote accountability.
  • Discuss research priorities and solutions to overcome the identified barriers at a country and/or regional level.
  • Provide a platform for multi-disciplinary experts to discuss how to better impact policy uptake through the use of science and investment in research and research leadership.