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Table of Contents

Universal Health Coverage

Universal health coverage means that all people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It includes the full range of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

Currently, at least half of the people in the world do not receive the health services they need. About 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket spending on health. This must change.

To make health for all a reality, we need: individuals and communities who have access to high quality health services so that they take care of their own health and the health of their families; skilled health workers providing quality, people-centred care; and policy-makers committed to investing in universal health coverage.

Universal health coverage should be based on strong, people-centred primary health care. Good health systems are rooted in the communities they serve. They focus not only on preventing and treating disease and illness, but also on helping to improve well-being and quality of life.

What does universal health coverage mean?

Universal health coverage means that all people have access to the health services they need (prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care) without the risk of financial hardship when paying for them.

This requires an efficient health system that provides the entire population with access to good quality services, health workers, medicines and technologies. It also requires a financing system to protect people from financial hardship and impoverishment from health care costs.
Access to health services ensures healthier people; while financial risk protection prevents people from being pushed into poverty. Therefore, universal health coverage is a critical component of sustainable development and poverty reduction, and a key element to reducing social inequities.
Universal health coverage is not something that can be achieved overnight, but all countries can take action to move more rapidly towards it, or to maintain the gains they have already made.

How can we measure universal health coverage?

As universal health coverage is a combination of whether people obtain the health services they need and financial risk protection, measurement needs to include both components. Coverage of health services can be measured by the percentage of people receiving the services they need: for example women in fertile age groups accessing modern methods of family planning or children immunized. On the other hand, financial risk protection can be evaluated by a reduction in the number of families pushed into poverty or placed under severe economic strain due to health costs. The impact of these steps on population health and household financial wellbeing can also be measured, as can many of the factors that make it easier to increase coverage. These include the availability of essential medicines, for example.

The main challenge is that many countries do not have the capacity to measure coverage of all of the many health interventions that their populations needs. So they will need to choose a set of key indicators to track performance in service coverage. A sub-set of these could be used to compare performance between countries.

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