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A War of Words Fought over Women’s Bodies

If governments are serious about universal health coverage, they must commit to building and funding comprehensive health-care systems that work for all people, including girls and women. The result will be a healthier, wealthier, and more equal world.

NEW YORK – This month, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting to secure a commitment by member states to deliver universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection and access to essential health-care services, medicines, and vaccines for all. But just how much countries commit to services that meet the unique needs of girls and women as part of their UHC implementation is still up for debate.

By adopting a political declaration on UHC, countries are agreeing to allocate funding from their national budgets to create a future in which diabetics everywhere get insulin, HIV isn’t left to ravage communities, and all children receive essential vaccinations. In that future, even the most vulnerable communities would have reliable and affordable access to the services they need, and the entire society would be healthier and more productive.

And yet the unique health needs of girls and women, not least their sexual and reproductive health needs, remain a matter of political contention, which has long caused their health care to be undervalued and under-resourced. In humanitarian settings, for example, there is very little access to sexual and reproductive health care. And in many places, young people have difficulties exercising their reproductive rights.

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