• Universal health coverage (UHC) is about ensuring that people have access to the health care 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. 

    UHC is also key to achieving the World Bank Group’s (WBG) twin goals of ending extreme poverty and increasing equity and shared prosperity, and as such it is the driving force behind all of the WBG’s health and nutrition investments. It is also an essential part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 3 includes a target to “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.” SDG 1, with the goal to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, is also in peril without UHC, as hundreds of millions of people are impoverished by health expenses every year.

    In recent years, the UHC movement has gained global momentum, with the World Health Assembly and the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to “urgently and significantly scale up efforts to accelerate the transition towards universal access to affordable and quality healthcare services.”

    At the same time, challenges remain. Recent World Bank/World Health Organization (WHO) research from 2017 shows that 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. In addition, 800 million people spend at least 10 percent or more of their household budget on healthcare expenses.

    In December 2017, a high-level forum on UHC was jointly organized by the Government of Japan, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UHC2030 and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The UHC Forum aimed to galvanize the health sector, countries, development partners, civil society and the private sector toward the common goal of UHC, including pandemic preparedness, and highlight country success and breakthrough experiences to accelerate the progress of UHC. 

    Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018

  • Today, most low- and middle-income countries are designing and implementing strategies that are accelerating progress toward UHC. While the path to UHC is specific to each country, the WBG’s aim is to support countries to build healthier, more equitable societies, as well as to improve their fiscal performance and country competitiveness. The WBG does this through global, regional, and country-level research and knowledge generation, financial investments and technical assistance, and global convenings.


    Ongoing WBG research is helping to evaluate UHC progress globally, including the quality of primary care, health coverage expansion initiatives, and inequalities in health outcomes. The WBG and WHO jointly released Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report, which found that despite some progress on UHC, at least half of the world’s population still cannot obtain essential health services. And each year, close to 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty because they must pay for health expenses out of their own pockets. It is a follow up to the 2015 WBG/WHO report Tracking Universal Health Coverage and measures health service coverage and financial protection to assess countries’ progress towards UHC. In addition to this, the WBG and WHO have also jointly developed a monitoring framework to help countries track their progress and results in UHC.

    Countries are increasingly adopting health systems reforms that benefit the poor with the goal of ensuring UHC, according to ongoing World Bank research. Originally released in 2015, the report, Going Universal: How 24 Countries Are Implementing Universal Health Coverage Reforms from the Bottom Up, describes how different countries are pursuing UHC, based on systematic data collection, in order to provide practical insights to policymakers. In 2018, studies on an additional 16 countries were released.

    To boost regional UHC efforts, in August 2016 the WBG, with the WHO, the government of Japan, JICA, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), and the African Development Bank, launched UHC in Africa: A Framework for Action. The framework provides a big-picture view of UHC in the region and identifies key areas that will be critical to achieving better health outcomes. Beyond Africa, to help boost health systems strengthening globally, in 2017 the WGB and the WHO published Healthy systems for universal health coverage – a joint vision for healthy lives.

    Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018

  • Partnership is key, and the WBG works with several partners to accelerate progress towards UHC. The WBG is a co-convener with the WHO of UHC2030, the global movement to build stronger health systems for UHC. This multi-stakeholder platform also advocates for increased political commitment to UHC and facilitates accountability and knowledge sharing.

    Since one of the most important challenges to achieving UHC globally is the availability and sustainability of financing, the WBG, along with partners, also convenes the Annual UHC  Financing Forum at its Spring Meetings. The Forum brings together countries and partners to shape a joint agenda on financing for UHC and provide a platform to advance knowledge and its application in UHC financing. By bringing the finance and health sectors together, and by bridging policy with evidence, the Forum creates one of the only global spaces that convenes key actors to help accelerate progress in countries towards sustainable financing of UHC.

    In addition, the WBG is also a partner in the Joint Learning Network for UHC, a network of policymakers and practitioners from low- and middle-income countries who learn from one another, jointly problem solve, and collectively produce and use new knowledge, tools, and innovative approaches to accelerate country progress toward UHC.

    Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018

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