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Achieving Universal Health Coverage: A Policy Perspective

May 21, 2018

UHCUniversal health coverage as defined by WHO[1] means “that all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship”. Health financing is one of the biggest barriers to the attainment of health for all.

According to a report published by the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO)[2], at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services. Furthermore, some 800 million people spend more than 10 percent of their household budget on health care, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket health expenses.

The 2030 Sustainable Development goals (SDG) has target 3.8 of SDG 3 as [3]  “achieve universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.” Addressing UHC is critical not just for health professionals but for society at large as achieving UHC would benefit all sectors, and a healthy population is a more productive population.

The quest for determining the importance of health to economic growth continues. However, we know that 14 million people die prematurely (before age 70) each year from non-communicable diseases (NCDs); approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth; and millions still die from communicable diseases. A pandemic or disease outbreak causes deaths in countries which are not even affected due to the need to reduce the risk of the disease spreading. Furthermore, there are millions globally who are unable to work due to disability or a health problem. 

It is acceptable and understandable that other sectors have their own specific areas of focus, however, good health for all transcends industry-specific issues. From infectious disease that knows no boundaries to a growing opioid crisis, securing good health is a workforce issue with direct impact on how well companies thrive. To ensure that everyone gets equitable access to healthcare—universal health coverage—we need to work together.


  • A whole-systems approach to health is critical in increasing access to health care; that is, a whole-of-government approach is required to address the challenges and gaps. 
  • Ministries of Finance should work closely with the health sector to determine what impact measurement is required to enable increased financing for health.
  • A key global measurement of the impact of health on the economy should be the number of people who have a disability or health condition that stops them from working. This should then inform policy priorities and enable improved and targeted public health awareness, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of the key conditions that are impinging on people’s ability to work.
  • All employers across the globe should promote health and wellbeing programmes for their employees. Public Health Departments should help develop key messages for employers.
  • Finally, as we global health leaders gather at the World Health Assembly this year to deliberate on achieving UHC, I hope we can consider how we collaborate with other sectors to support us in implementing health programmes to improve access to healthcare. Together, we can make great strides towards achieving Health for All.



[2] Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017Global Monitoring Report, The World Health Organization and The World Bank, December 2017


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