The World Bank Group (WBG) is committed to helping governments achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, which has the potential to transform the health and well-being of individuals and societies. The vision of UHC is that all people can obtain the quality health services they need without suffering financial hardship. UHC also allows countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital. Health is a foundational investment in human capital and in economic growth--without good health, children are unable to go to school and adults are unable to go to work.
Globally, there has been significant progress towards UHC. Most parts of the world have seen an expansion in the access to health services and coverage of key interventions over the last two decades. There have also been notable improvements in financial protection. Yet, the challenges remain immense.
In many countries there are still large coverage gaps, in particular for poor and marginalized communities. Half the world's population cannot access needed health services, while 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of health expenses, shows WBG/World Health Organization (WHO) research from 2017. In addition, 800 million people spend at least 10 percent or more of their household budget on healthcare expenses, often forcing them to choose between their health and other needed expenses for their family.
Health expenses are an important reason families around the world are pushed into poverty. UHC is thus fundamental to achieving the WBG’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty and increasing equity and the overarching Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty. As long as millions are impoverished each year because of health expenses, neither goal can be reached.
Health systems in many countries are also confronting the challenges of aging populations and a growing burden of lifestyle diseases. The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health, is growing. NCDs are now the cause of 70 percent of deaths globally, with the majority of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, despite advances in reducing the burden of communicable disease, rates still remain high in many parts of the world for malnutrition, unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services, and maternal mortality.
Achieving universal health security, which protects all people from threats to their health, is an essential component of providing UHC. Universal health security means protecting everybody, not just because that is the equitable thing to do, but because with infectious diseases, true health security can only be achieved if everyone is protected. It both depends on and complements broader efforts to strengthen health systems and make them more resilient, so it needs to be pursued as part of an integrated plan.
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2018