The Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage (JLN) is deeply saddened by the loss of Cheikh Mbengue, Director General of Senegal's Universal Health Coverage Agency and tireless advocate for universal health coverage (UHC) in Senegal and around the world.
Mr. Mbengue was an integral part of Senegal's representation within JLN; spearheading the country’s transition to full membership in the network and participation in the Stakeholder Communications for UHC Learning Exchange, a partnership of the JLN and USAID/HFG Project.
A true champion for UHC, Mr. Mbengue led much of Senegal's involvement in the network as the country pursued health care reforms.
JLN spoke with one of Mr. Mbengue’s former colleagues, Dr. François Diop, a globally recognized expert in health sector reform and health financing with a focus on Africa, to share Cheikh’s numerous contributions to the field with the wider UHC community. Dr. Diop currently leads the USAID-funded Health Systems Strengthening Project in Senegal for Abt Associates.
Mr. Mbengue was known as a champion for UHC in Senegal and globally – what legacy does he leave in Senegal?
Political actors, health professionals, and civil society representatives in Senegal speak the same language and understand one other on universal health coverage, thanks to Cheikh Mbengue’s public advocacy. Cheikh frequently appeared on TV and radio programs and at conferences and other venues, energetically and passionately debating health systems strengthening and UHC.
While the Senegalese Head of State established the country’s UHC agency, it was under Cheikh’s leadership as director general that the agency grew from a very small office within the Senegal Ministry of Health to a larger agency with fourteen regional subdivisions. These regional offices became the backbone of the administrative infrastructure that supports the implementation of UHC policy initiatives in Senegal.
Through the efforts of the UHC agency, every commune in Senegal now has at least one community-based health insurance (CBHI) organization; and all 45 provinces in the country have a CBHI union, the social intermediary between its members and hospitals, the UHC agency, and other actors involved in the UHC efforts
During Cheikh’s tenure, the UHC agency and its relationships with health care providers and networks of CBHI schemes moved toward a distribution modality, through which the state provides health coverage to children under five years of age, pregnant women, the elderly, and poor families in Senegal.
During Mr. Mbengue’s tenure as head of Senegal’s UHC agency, what was his proudest accomplishment?
Cheikh’s proudest achievement was the implementation of the special health coverage program for the poor. The state of Senegal pays CBHI contributions for health coverage of 300,000 of Senegal’s poorest families—nearly 20 percent of Senegal’s population. These families became beneficiaries of the cash transfer program, known as Bourses de Sécurité Familiale, for health coverage.
What was Mr. Mbengue’s vision for UHC in Senegal – and globally?
Cheikh viewed investment toward UHC as the main path to guarantee the basic human right to health for every member of society. While Cheikh viewed investment toward UHC as a primary responsibility of the state government, he also believed that engaging local governments, civil society organizations, the associative movement, and community and religious leaders were critical to mobilizing citizens and health providers to extend UHC in the informal and rural sectors and the poorest segments of society. This is what Cheikh strived for in Senegal and what he advocated for in other countries around the world.
What final thoughts would you like to share about Mr. Mbengue’s character and contributions to universal health coverage?
Cheikh Mbengue was a man of principles who despised social injustice, a generous man who was prompt to provide assistance to people in need, and a courageous man who loved speaking truth to the powerful. He was both a technocrat and a politician who understood the social potential of bridging the gap between knowledge and politics to solve challenges in health systems, health financing, and health coverage. He spent a large part of his life building bridges at the Center for Training, Research and Advocacy in Reproductive Health (CEFOREP) in Senegal; in Benin, Mali and Washington, D.C. while employed at Abt Associates; and back in Senegal as director general of the UHC agency.
I present my condolences to Cheikh’s family in Senegal, to his larger family, and to all who shared a part of his life and passion for UHC.