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The ghosts of user fees past: Exploring accountability for victims of a 30-year economic policy mistake.
Health and Human Rights. 2013 Jun; 15(1):175-185.Today, there is an unmistakable shift in international consensus away from private health financing, including the use of user fees toward public financing mechanisms (notably tax financing), to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). This is, however, much the same as an earlier consensus reached at the WHO's World Health Assembly at Alma-Ata in 1978. When considering the full circle journey from Alma-Ata in 1978 to today’s re-emerging support for UHC, it is worth taking stock and reflecting on how and why the international health community took this nearly three decade detour and how such misguided policies as user fees came to be so widely implemented during the intervening period. It is important for the international health community to ensure that steps are taken to compensate victims and determine accountability for those responsible. Victims of user fees suffered violations of their human right to health as enshrined in Universal Declaration, ICESCR, and a number of other human rights treaties, and yet still cannot avail themselves of remedies, such as those provided by international and regional human rights fora or the various United Nations treaty-monitoring bodies, and the responsible institutions and individuals have thus far remained unaccountable. This lack of accountability suggests a degree of impunity for international organizations and health economists dispensing with health policy advice. Such a lack of accountability should be noted with concern by the international health community as it increasingly relies on the advice and direction of health economists. Steps must be taken to provide survivors of user fees with compensation and hold those responsible to account.