Skip to Main Navigation


  • The World Bank Group (WBG) supports countries’ efforts towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and to provide quality, affordable health services to everyone —regardless of their ability to pay — by strengthening primary health care systems and reducing the financial risks associated with ill health and increasing equity.

    Globally, there has been significant progress towards UHC, although the 2019 UHC Global Monitoring Report shows that the world is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of UHC for all by 2030. 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. In 2017 between one-third and half the world’s population were covered by essential health services.

    Yet, the challenges remain immense.

    In many countries, there are still large coverage gaps, particularly for poor and marginalized communities. The latest figures by the World Health Organization and the World Bank also show that every year, people in developing countries pay over half a trillion dollars out-of-pocket for health care. In addition, this causes financial hardship for more than 900 million people and pushes nearly 90 million people into extreme poverty every year. Even when health services are available, countries at all incomes levels often struggle to ensure quality and affordability in health services.

    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 most of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, despite advances in reducing the burden of communicable disease, rates remain high in many parts of the world for malnutrition, unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services, and maternal mortality.

    Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020

  • The World Bank Group (WBG) works to help nations build healthier, more equitable societies and to improve fiscal performance and country competitiveness. Over the last decade, the International Development Association (IDA) has provided US$13.5 billion to fund essential health interventions for 770 million people, and immunizations for 330 million children. The share of IDA funding for health and nutrition has increased by 60 percent over the last decade.

    The WBG has focused its health sector investments and research in areas that are especially vital to helping countries achieve UHC by 2030, working closely with donors, development partners, governments, and the private sector. Some of these focus areas include ending preventable maternal and child mortality; reducing stunting and improving nutrition for infants and children; strengthening health systems and health financing; ensuring pandemic preparedness and response; promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights; and the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases.

    Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020

  • Women and Children’s Health

    Ensuring that every woman and child has access to health care is fundamental to ending poverty, building robust economies, and achieving UHC. While the global community has made considerable progress over the past 30 years in improving the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents, progress has not been enough. The most recent estimates find that 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes.

    The Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), an innovative financing platform hosted by the World Bank, supports countries in their efforts to improve the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents and maximize human capital investments. The GFF supports governments by strengthening a country-led platform that aligns all key stakeholders to develop an investment case and implementation plan for prioritizing key reforms to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition and a strong primary health care system.

    Health Emergencies

    Pandemics pose a serious threat not only to global health security and achieving UHC, but also to economic security. While deadly disease outbreaks are inevitable, strong health systems can allow countries to better detect and respond to diseases and prevent an outbreak from becoming a pandemic. Despite progress made since the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola crisis, a new report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body co-convened by the WBG and World Health Organization (WHO), finds that despite the increasingly dire risk of widespread epidemics, the world remains unprepared.

    In response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the World Bank has been closely coordinating with WHO and other international partners to accelerate the international response to support countries to manage the global health emergency. The WBG’s package of immediate support fast tracks US$14 billion in financing, complemented by policy advice and technical assistance, to help developing countries cope with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this new fast-track package, the WBG assists governments in strengthening health systems, disease surveillance, and public health interventions, and work with the private sector to reduce the impact on economies.

    Since the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, the World Bank has provided US$286 million from IDA, with an additional US$50 million disbursed from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) – a financing mechanism housed at the World Bank. The funds have enabled responders to step up the frontline health response, deliver cash-for-work programs to support the local economy, strengthen resilience in the affected communities, and contain the spread of this deadly virus.

    Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) also poses a significant and growing health and financial threat to countries at all income levels. AMR occurs when bacteria and parasites cannot be treated by medicines that were previously effective. Investing in strengthening health systems and preparedness for pandemics and other infectious disease outbreaks is one of the best ways to contain antimicrobial resistance.


    Nutrition interventions are consistently identified as one of the most cost-effective development actions. However, an estimated 149 million children under 5 are stunted (low height for age), which compromises brain development, learning, and adult earningsGlobally, undernutrition is an underlying cause of about 45 percent of under-five deaths. Over 70 percent of countries—the vast majority of which are low- and lower-middle-income countries—currently face a double burden of malnutrition: a high prevalence of both undernutrition and obesity. The World Bank has led the effort to estimate the cost and cost-effectiveness of nutrition interventions to support advocacy and increase investment in nutrition at the global and country levels.

    At the global level, the World Bank, in partnership with the Results for Development Institute1000 Days, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation published An Investment Framework for Nutrition which provides a roadmap, including estimates of resources required and possible financing scenarios to achieve the global nutrition targets set out by the World Health Assembly and enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals. This has been followed up with the development of a tool (Optima Nutrition) that helps countries maximize the efficiency of nutrition investments, so promised results can be achieved.

    Infectious Diseases

    While the incidence of infectious diseases has declined globally, they continue to have major health and economic costs. Caused by pathogenic micro-organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, can be spread directly or indirectly from one person to another. Stopping the spread of infectious diseases globally is not only beneficial for a country’s economy and its population’s health, it is also essential for countries to achieve UHC. Reaching this goal requires prevention of and access to quality treatment for infectious diseases, including malaria, TB and HIV, as well as adequate sanitation.

    Tobacco Control

    Smoking is a leading cause of preventable disease and death – it causes more deaths each year than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The total economic cost of smoking exceeds US$ 1.4 trillion each year, equivalent to 1.8 percent of the world’s annual gross domestic product. In response, the WBG’s Global Tobacco Control Program assists countries in fostering and implementing tobacco tax reforms to achieve public health goals by reducing tobacco affordability and consumption, and mobilizing domestic resources to expand the fiscal space to fund priority programs and investments that benefit the entire population, and also controlling illicit trade on tobacco by strengthening customs systems.

    Mental health disorders also impose an enormous disease burden on societies across the world. Depression alone affects 350 million people globally and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Worsened by low levels of investment and treatment coverage, mental disorders also have serious economic consequences. The WBG is supporting efforts to put mental health at the center of global health and development agendas to fully realize the goal of universal health coverage and improve human capital outcomes across the world.

    Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020

  • Improving health outcomes is a key focus at the World Bank Group. Over the last decade, 700 million people have benefited from essential health interventions through IDA grants, including 330 million children being immunized. The Word Bank’s portfolio of US$13.5 billion represents a 60 percent increase in the share of IDA funding for health and nutrition, reflecting rising demand from countries. It is also the result of the World Bank’s strong focus on preserving and strengthening primary health care systems to cope with health emergencies, and providing services for the most vulnerable, crisis-hit, or hardest-to-reach populations.

    In El Salvador, 2.1 million people living in 92 municipalities can now access quality health care. Through the Strengthening Public Health Care System project, the country improved health services for poor and rural citizens, particularly women and children. Initial results from 2012-2017 indicate that births at health facilities increased, neonatal units were better equipped, and full cycles of treatment for cervical cancer were ensured, contributing to decreases in maternal and neonatal mortality. In addition, the nation strengthened its emergency response network, improved the equipment available at the primary and tertiary levels of care, and improved the National Reference Institute responsible for identifying and monitoring infectious diseases.

    In South Sudan, where maternal and child mortality rates are among the highest in the world, and child malnutrition is severe, the Provision of Essential Health Services Project is bringing high-impact health services to more than 3.5 million people, mostly women and children. With a special focus on high-risk communities and internally displaced persons, the project is training health professionals in the treatment and counseling of sexual and gender-based violence victims.

    Yemen is making great strides in preserving its primary health systems, improving service delivery resilience, and prioritizing support to conflict-affected poor and vulnerable groups. Through the Yemen Emergency Health and Nutrition Project, nearly 12 million children had been vaccinated, more than 1.6 million people had been treated for cholera, 4.3 million women and children have received basic nutrition services, and 16 million have been reached by health services since 2017.  The project is supporting around 50 percent of public primary and secondary healthcare facilities across the country. It is also delivering critical health and nutrition services and addressing cholera outbreaks through integrated health, nutrition, water and sanitation interventions.

    In Afghanistan, after years of war, the World Bank’s Sehatmandi Project, which is co-financed by IDA, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and the Global Financing Facility, is providing essential community-based health services and basic psychosocial counseling, management of severe and acute mental health problems, and professional psychosocial counseling in about half of the country. In 2018, more than 2.2 million people received mental health services in all 34 provinces of the country compared to around half a million people in 2009.

    In the Sahel region, IDA funding backs the Sahel Women’s Economic Empowerment and the Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project aimed at enhancing women and adolescent girls’ empowerment; increasing access to quality reproductive, child and maternal health services, and improving regional knowledge sharing,  capacity and coordination in the context of some of the highest fertility and poverty rates globally. Covering six countries (Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso) SWEDD has achieved the following results to date:

    -        more than 40,000 girls across project countries have benefited from schooling-related interventions (including transportation services, accommodation, food, school supplies, and cash transfers);

    -        400 health and midwifery training institutions have been evaluated and equipped across the region; and

    -        3 centers of excellence in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali have been launched, offering for the first time in the Sahel, a master’s program on Nursing and Obstetrics, including modules related to the challenges of adolescent girls, gender-based violence and post-partum family planning.

    The high incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in the mining sector is an invisible crisis that has eroded economic development in the Southern African region. The World Bank, in collaboration with 15 Southern African governments, designed a comprehensive program that is improving regional coordination to fight TB in the mining sector, including through provision of TB screening for mineworkers, and establishing and increasing services for former mineworkers.

    With a stagnant economy for the last 30 years, Madagascar has become one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2019, the World Bank approved a second additional financing of US$ 90 million for the Social Safety Net Project (SSNP) to help extremely poor households access safety net services and strengthen the foundations of the national social protection system. To date, SSNP has reached more than 450,000 households across 17 districts, promoting nutrition, early childhood development, school attendance, and encouraging more interactions between parents and their children. Over 500,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women and more than 1.7 million children under the age of five have received free health care by means of a voucher and exemption system. Classroom absenteeism has declined due to nearly 1.8 million school-age children receiving preventive treatment against neglected tropical diseases, particularly helminth infections. Through the FIAVOTA program, 65,000 vulnerable drought-affected households (totaling over 780,000 people) in southern Madagascar received cash transfers combined with health and nutrition interventions to stabilize their income, build resilience, and improve their well-being.

    Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020


More Photos Arrow

In Depth

Investing in Health Blog

Our global team of health & development experts share their insights

Human Capital Project

The Human Capital Project is a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.

Global Financing Facility

Smart, scaled and sustainable financing designed to achieve and measure results

Joint Learning Network

The Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage is a global community of policymakers and practitioners who co-produce practical solutions to implementing reforms toward UHC.

Additional Resources