Health systems

Universal Health Coverage

Good health is essential to sustained economic and social development and poverty reduction. Access to needed health services is crucial for maintaining and improving health. At the same time, people need to be protected from being pushed into poverty because of the cost of health care.

Universal health coverage, is defined as ensuring that all people have access to needed promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that people do not suffer financial hardship when paying for these services. Universal health coverage (UHC) has therefore become a major goal for health reform in many countries and a priority objective of the World Health Organization (WHO).

This definition of universal health coverage embodies three related objectives:

  • equity in access to health services - those who need the services should get them, not only those who can pay for them;
  • that the quality of health services is good enough to improve the health of those receiving services; and
  • financial-risk protection - ensuring that the cost of using care does not put people at risk of financial hardship.

Universal coverage brings the hope of better health and protection from poverty for hundreds of millions of people - especially those in the most vulnerable situations. Universal coverage is firmly based on the WHO constitution of 1948 declaring health a fundamental human right and was on the Health for All agenda set by the Alma-Ata declaration in 1978. Achieving the health Millennium Development Goals and the next wave of targets looking beyond 2015 will depend largely on how countries succeed in moving towards universal coverage.