A debate will take place in Westminster Hall on 5 July 2018 on the role of universal health coverage in tackling preventable and treatable diseases. The debate will be led by Jim Shannon MP.

Universal Health Coverage means that everyone can receive the healthcare services they need without suffering financial hardship.[1] The World Health Organisation (WHO)sets out the arguments for universal health coverage:

Countries that invest in UHC make a sound investment in their human capital. In recent decades, UHC has emerged as a key strategy to make progress towards other health-related and broader development goals. Access to essential quality care and financial protection not only enhances people’s health and life expectancy, it also protects countries from epidemics, reduces poverty and the risk of hunger, creates jobs, drives economic growth and enhances gender equality.[2]

In December 2017, it was reported that at least half of the world’s population cannot access essential health services and that for almost 100 million people, the expenses associated with healthcare mean that they are forced to live in extreme poverty.[3] 

Action towards achieving universal health coverage

At the UN General Assembly in 2015, a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Milestones were agreed. 193 Member States, including the UK, adopted the goals and committed to working to deliver them by 2030. One of these goals, SDG 3, is focused on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. One of the targets under SDG 3 is particularly focused on universal health coverage:

Achieve universal health coverage, 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[4]

According to the WHO, actions that can contribute towards achieving universal health coverage include:

  • The introduction of finance structures that share the financial burden across the country’s population;
  • Investment in primary care services; and
  • Improved processes for governance, procurement and supplies of medicines and other healthcare supplies.[5]

More information about action to reach universal health coverage is set out in a 2017 WHO report, Together on the road to universal health coverage: A call to action.

In December 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for access to healthcare for all people and agreeing to hold a high-level meeting on universal health coverage in 2019. The Government have said that the Department for International Development is coordinating preparations across Government for this meeting, and that the Government is encouraging discussion of the issue in international meetings such as the G20 and G7.[6]

A May 2018 Parliamentary Question response provides more information on UK Government action towards achieving universal health coverage:

Achieving Global Goal 3 by 2030, including universal health coverage (UHC), is a priority for the UK. The UK supports countries to move more rapidly towards UHC by building strong and resilient health systems that meet essential needs for all. To achieve this, DFID provides technical assistance and financial support directly to countries, political and financial support to the World Health Organisation, and funding for research and new products that reduce the prices countries pay for essential commodities. Through health partnerships the UK enables others to learn from the UK’s own experience and expertise in providing UHC through the NHS. [7]

On World Health Day 2018 in April 2018, the WHO launched a campaign #HealthForAll focused on promoting universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030. The campaign website provides further information on the aims and actions of the campaign.

Further reading

The following links provide further reading on universal health coverage:

[1]     WHO, Factsheet: universal health coverage, December 2017

[2]     WHO, Campaign essentials for World Health Day 2018

[3]     WHO, World Bank and WHO: Half the world lacks access to essential health services, 100 million still pushed into extreme poverty because of health expenses, December 2017

[4]     UN, Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

[5]     WHO, Factsheet: universal health coverage, December 2017

[6]     HC Written question – 154193

[7]     HC Written question – 143196

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