66th WHA: Volunteerism and Universal Health Coverage

A side event at the 66th World Health Assembly co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and Zambia, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), GBCHealth and Pfizer's Global Health Fellows Program.

When: Wednesday 22 May 2013, 18:00–20:00

Where: Restaurant des Délégués (8th Floor), Palais des Nations, Geneva

What: How can we harness the potential of skilled volunteers to achieve Universal Health Coverage?

Trained volunteers play an essential role in bridging the last mile between access to health care and the most remote communities and marginalized groups.

How can we harness the potential of skilled volunteers to achieve Universal Health Coverage? (PDF slideshow)


  • Dr Eduardo Jaramillo Navarrete, Director General of Health Promotion, Secretariat of Health of Mexico
  • Dr. Peter Mwaba, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health of Zambia
  • Dr Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross
  • Dr Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General, IFRC
  • Dr Dorien Mulder, Project Development Manager, PharmAccess Foundation
  • Mr Michael Schreiber, Executive Director, GBCHealth
  • Ms Taina Nakari, Partnerships Officer, Global Health Workforce Alliance/WHO

Moderator: Dr Sunoor Verma, Executive Director of the Geneva Health Forum

See the panellists' biographies (.pdf).

About the event

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is quickly gaining increased attention as the public and private sectors seek alternative approaches to the traditional disease silos and the international community discusses the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda. The WHO World Health Assembly in 2005, and the WHO World Health Report 2010, called for health systems to move towards universal coverage, defined as “access to adequate healthcare for all at an affordable price,” including health interventions for promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. 

In order to achieve UHC, it is key to expand the network of health providers and health institutions so that the vast majority of the population can have access to health services. More recently, a report on progress towards UHC was endorsed by the 132nd WHO Executive Board, and UHC has been included as an agenda item in the 66th World Health Assembly

While governments are primarily responsible for UHC and recent attention has focused on financing issues, it is widely understood that no amount of money is sufficient to ensure effective care when health systems lack the functioning infrastructure and human resources required to deliver quality healthcare. There is, therefore, wide scope for contributions by other societal partners in achieving health goals, and action is already taking place. 

Experience has shown that volunteers and community health workers, such as those involved with the IFRC and corporate community programmes, represent important and unique resources. Trained volunteers can deliver crucial and culturally sensitive health messages, empowering individuals, households and communities to make informed decisions and increasing local access to lifesaving curative measures.

For more information, please write to volunteerism.UHC@ifrc.org.

It takes a noble and brave heart to be a volunteer

It takes a noble and brave heart to be a volunteer

It takes a high level of altruism and good will for someone to consider volunteering for a great cause but most importantly, it takes a noble and a brave heart to be a true volunteer and continue doing it.

Video highlights

A call to action