Global Leaders Gather at ZSFG to Discuss Universal Health Care

By Niall Kavanagh

Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations

On the eve of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, global and local leaders—including Ban Ki-moon, Mary Robinson, Ricardo Lagos and Eric Goosby, MD—gathered with community members at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) to discuss universal health care in California and beyond.

“California: Leading the Way to Universal Health Coverage,” was co-hosted by The Elders, an organization of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela; UC San Francisco; ZSFG; and Muso Health.

Speaking to a capacity crowd in Carr Auditorium, Ban, former UN Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for a solution built on equity and fairness. “Universal health coverage (should) allocate according to people’s needs and the health system financed according to people’s ability to pay,” said Ban.

He also highlighted the connection between universal health care and climate change. “These two agendas are inextricably linked,” Ban said. “Climate inaction represents a major threat to global health.”

Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile, suggested the high cost of health care in the US is problematic. The US spends seventeen percent of its GDP on health care, 40 percent higher than the average of other developed countries. Still, nearly 29 million Americans—about nine percent—lack health insurance. “We have the means,” said Lagos. “We need the (political) will.”

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, and Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile
Former presidents Mary Robinson, of Ireland, and Ricardo Lagos, of Chile

Robinson, former president of Ireland, said she is confident California is on the right track to universal health care. “I think California will be the first state to have universal health coverage,” she said. Speaking of a visit to the UCSF and SF Department of Public Heath HIV clinic, Ward 86, earlier in the day, she said, “It’s been a privilege to see the inclusiveness, the commitment and the rounded approach.”

Goosby, professor of medicine, UN special envoy on TB and director of the Center on Global Health Delivery and Diplomacy at the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences, appealed for active engagement. “One way to be supportive of the discussion is to take a participant position,” he said. Goosby will be leading a UN High-level Meeting on TB in September.

Ultimately, the speakers agreed there are different ways to universal health care but it is a worthy cause. “Health care is a human right,” said Ari Johnson, MD, assistant professor of medicine and CEO of Muso Health. “It’s a matter of our collective will to make it a priority.”

Speakers also included Susan Ehrlich, MD, of UCSF and ZSFG; Joaquin Arambula of the California State Assembly; Gloria Duffy of Commonwealth Club; Richard Scheffler of UC Berkeley; Rob Yates of Chatham House; and Cindy Young of California Nurses Association.

See video of the discussion on demand: http://tiny.ucsf.edu/UHCvideo.