WHO updates fact sheet on Universal Health Coverage (7 December 2016)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Background Information:

What is Universal Health Coverage (UHC)?

UHC means that all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. It includes the full spectrum of essential, quality health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

UHC enables everyone to access the services that address the most important causes of disease and death, and ensures that the quality of those services is good enough to improve the health of the people who receive them.

What is not included in the scope of Universal Health Coverage (UHC)?

UHC does not mean free coverage for all possible health interventions, regardless of the cost, as no country can provide all services free of charge on a sustainable basis.

UHC is not just about health financing. It encompasses all components of the health system: health service delivery systems, the health workforce, health facilities and communications networks, health technologies, information systems, quality assurance mechanisms, and governance and legislation.

UHC is not only about ensuring a minimum package of health services, but also about ensuring a progressive expansion of coverage of health services and financial protection as more resources become available.

UHC is not only about individual treatment services, but also includes population-based services such as public health campaigns, adding fluoride to water, controlling mosquito breeding grounds, and so on.

UHC is comprised of much more than just health; taking steps towards UHC means steps towards equity, development priorities, and social inclusion and cohesion.

Key Messages:

All UN Member States have agreed to try to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

UHC provides access to quality essential health services; safe, effective, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines; and protection from financial risk.

At least 400 million people globally lack access to one or more essential health services.

Every year 100 million people are pushed into poverty and 150 million people suffer financial catastrophe because of out-of-pocket expenditure on health services.

On average, about 32% of each country’s health expenditure comes from out-of-pocket payments.

Ensuring equitable access requires a transformation in how health services are funded, managed, and delivered so that services are centred around the needs of people and communities.

More than 18 million additional health workers will be needed by 2030 to meet the health workforce requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals and UHC targets, with gaps concentrated in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Globally, two thirds (38 million) of 56 million deaths each year are still not registered.

UHC emphasizes not only what services are covered, but also how they are funded, managed, and delivered. A fundamental shift in service delivery is needed such that services are integrated and focused on the needs of people and communities.

WHO uses 16 essential health services in 4 categories as indicators of the level and equity of coverage in countries:

Reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health:

  • family planning
  • antenatal and delivery care
  • full child immunization
  • health-seeking behaviour for child illness.

Infectious diseases:

  • tuberculosis treatment
  • HIV antiretroviral treatment
  • coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets for malaria prevention
  • adequate sanitation.

Noncommunicable diseases:

  • prevention and treatment of raised blood pressure
  • prevention and treatment of raised blood glucose
  • cervical cancer screening
  • tobacco (non-)use.

Service capacity and access:

  • basic hospital access
  • health worker density
  • access to essential medicines
  • health security: compliance with the International Health Regulations.

Each country is unique, and each country may focus on different areas, or develop their own ways of measuring progress towards UHC.

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO fact sheet:


Link to the web site of the Universal Health Coverage Partnership:


Link to United Nations’ 2012 resolution on Universal Health Coverage:


Link to WHO fact file on Universal Health Coverage:


Link to WHO page on monitoring Universal Health Coverage:


Link to WHO video explaining Universal Health Coverage (English):

Link to WHO video ‘The many paths to Universal Health Coverage’ (English):


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