Let’s Talk About Universal Health Coverage

By Dr. Nahitun Naher

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Put very simply, universal health coverage (UHC) means “every person, everywhere, has access to quality healthcare without suffering financial hardship.” This goal is rooted in the concept of human rights to health, which also makes sense economically. However health system gaps remain a barrier, jeopardising the lives and financial wellbeing of millions of people globally. There are still too many countries that have failed to invest enough in health.

The journey towards achieving UHC actually began in 1978 through the Alma Ata Declaration of “Health for All”. But almost three decades later, the WHO Health Systems Financing Report in 2010 finally emphasised for the first time that it is possible for every country to mobilise necessary funds towards achieving UHC. Following that, in a historic resolution in 2012, the United Nations unanimously endorsed UHC as a priority for every country.

The momentum towards UHC turned into a commitment when more than 500 organisations across the health and development sector joined the Rockefeller Foundation in launching the first-ever UHC Day with the slogan ‘Health for All, Everywhere’ on December 12, 2014. Ever since, the global consensus that UHC is a smart investment and an achievable goal has grown.

The striking fact that 400 million people around the world lack basic healthcare services while 17 per cent are impoverished by health costs came out in the first UHC Global Monitoring Report in 2015. This triggered the drive towards UHC and was endorsed by 267 economists who declared UHC a smarter investment.

The year 2016 started with high hopes for UHC as world leaders including the G7 and African heads of state launched UHC campaigns in their countries. This affirmed that health is a human right and no one should go bankrupt when they get sick. Finally, in September 2016, WHO Director General Margaret Chan announced the International Health Partnership for accelerating progress toward UHC by 2030.

Throughout this journey, an international coalition for UHC has emerged involving 739 organisations in 117 countries, which celebrates Universal Health Coverage Day on December 12. This has become the annual rallying point for the growing movement towards health for all.

In Bangladesh, high out-of-pocket expenditure for health is driving people into poverty. Inadequate healthcare financing, inequity in health financing and utilisation, inefficient use of existing resource, inadequate health workforce and their skill-mix imbalance, and the rapid rise of non-communicable diseases are placing more barriers in our paths towards achieving UHC.

However it is promising to see that the Government of Bangladesh has expressed a strong commitment towards achieving UHC. This is reflected in the Government’s seventh Five-Year Plan where UHC has been prioritised. The Health Care Financing Strategy 2012-2032, and National Social Security Strategy 2015 have incorporated UHC by focusing on strengthening financial risk protection and extending health services and population coverage especially to poor and vulnerable populations.uhc-day-badge

This UHC Day, you too can “Act with Ambition” to express solidarity towards achieving UHC. If you are in Dhaka, Bangladesh, please do join our UHC Day Rally on December 12. For more information, please check the Facebook Event page here.


Dr. Nahitun Naher is a senior research associate at the Centre of Excellence for Universal Health Coverage at James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.

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