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Universal Health Coverage: The Foundation for Progress

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At the core of Sustainable Development Goal 3 is the powerful concept of Universal Health Coverage (UHC): that patients, wherever they live, should be able to receive the quality health services they need without suffering financial hardship.

There is increasing recognition that strong, sound, financially sustainable health systems generate a healthier and more productive society. One that can access education and gain skills, enabling participation in a dynamic global economy. Health, in this sense, brings wealth. The success of any health initiative depends on achieving UHC.

How can we define Universal Health Coverage? Building sustainable health systems means achieving effective service coverage: whereby people in need of promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative or palliative healthcare receive them, and that the services received are of sufficient quality to achieve potential health gains. To deliver this, health system frameworks must focus across preventative care, affordability, administering, and adherence to treatment.

Delivering UHC requires addressing multi-faceted challenges through collective efforts by all actors in the health ecosystem and a balanced approach which looks across the health care value chain: from medicine development to service delivery.

Achieving UHC requires a differentiated approach based on capacity and vulnerability to health challenges. Health systems vary across a spectrum from fragile (with weak capacity / willingness to carry out basic governance functions and deliver services) to mature (where there is political commitment to providing health care, strong levels of governance and funding). UHC delivers essential, quality services to all people and communities.

Although they may have access to some health services, more than half of the world’s population do not have access to all the essential services they need. Following a coordinated effort by the health community there is now a global agreement on how progress towards UHC will be measured. The WHO and World Bank UHC service coverage index measures progress towards UHC by country.

UHC service coverage index by country, 2015, for monitoring SDG indicator 3.8.1. Source: Tracking universal health coverage: 2017 global monitoring report. WHO / The World Bank, 2017.

UHC will only be achieved through collaboration by actors across healthcare and the pharmaceutical sector has a strong role to play in strengthening health systems to ensure the effective delivery of its medicines. Other sectors also have a strong role to play in promoting healthier and more productive societies.

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