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Innovation, Reach Alliance, Munk School

Joseph Wong, Reach Alliance alumna Kimberly Skead examine universal health coverage in new paper for The Lancet

Political science informs matters of health, says a new paper co-authored by Joseph Wong and Reach Alliance alumna Kimberly Skead. Written alongside their colleagues Carmen Jacqueline Ho and Hina Khalid, the paper, called “The Politics of Universal Health Coverage”, examines the role that political science plays in shaping and implementing better healthcare for all. The paper is part of The Lancet’s new series on political science and health.

Though the United Nations has declared universal health coverage an urgent global goal, a substantial portion of the world’s population still doesn’t have access to essential health services. In the article, the co-authors point out that the scientific, technical and administrative aspects to health systems design have been supported by rigorous research, but that achieving universal health care is a political challenge and political science is often overlooked in health literature. A focus on understanding the politics of health coverage can be the key to understanding what facilitates — or stymies — health policy reform.

The paper cites fieldwork conducted by the Reach Alliance as an example of how states can more effectively implement universal social programs, like health coverage, by granting a degree of flexibility in terms of how these services are delivered locally. “The balance between principal rigidity and centralized authority on one hand, and agent flexibility on the other, is essential to ensuring an effective principal-agent relationship,” the paper says.

Founded by Wong, the University of Toronto’s Vice-President, International; the Munk School’s Roz and Ralph Halbert Professor of Innovation; and Professor of Political Science; in partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth in 2015, the Reach Alliance was inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through student-driven, faculty-mentored research, Reach examines how critical interventions and innovations effectively reach those who are hardest to reach, with the aim of producing actionable insights that can be replicated elsewhere. Skead, who is now a case study mentor with the Reach Alliance, was part of one of the first cohorts of student-researchers. She and her team travelled to South Africa to learn how the country was so successful in providing birth registration for its citizens. Since that research year, the Reach Alliance has expanded internationally, forming partnerships with other academic institutions like the University of Oxford, University College London and Tecnológico de Monterry.