Universal Health Coverage Day: building efficient health systems that provide access to quality care without financial hardship

Save the Children

On 12 December – Universal Health Coverage Day – WHO reaffirms its commitment to support countries in providing affordable, quality health care for everyone. 

In 2012, 193 Member States formally adopted a United Nations resolution to accelerate efforts to move towards universal health coverage (UHC) to ensure that all people are able to access the health services they need without facing financial hardship caused by catastrophic and impoverishing out-of-pocket payments.

More recently, Member States and civil society placed UHC at the heart of global goals for sustainable development, reinforcing the right to health enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The adoption of the Declaration is commemorated on Human Rights Day, which takes place each year on 10 December.

Measuring progress towards achieving UHC

Countries can track their progress towards UHC by measuring 2 aspects of health system performance: access to health services and financial protection. Perhaps surprisingly, it is not just low- or middle-income countries that struggle to provide good access and financial protection to everyone.

Although European countries led the way in expanding health coverage during the 20th century, some achievements have been undone. For example, health coverage eroded after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and following the global financial crisis that began in 2008. Figures from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), show that since 2009 barriers to accessing health services have increased in more than two thirds of the high-income countries in the EU.

When it comes to financial protection, most European countries do not have up-to-date information on how well they are doing. To address this gap, WHO/Europe developed a more refined approach to assessing financial protection, and is now generating new evidence on the magnitude and causes of catastrophic and impoverishing out-of-pocket payments in the WHO European Region. Detailed country studies will be available in 2017, followed by a regional report in 2018.

At the 2015 session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, Member States committed to achieving “a Europe free of impoverishing out-of-pocket payments”. By working to reduce out-of-pocket payments, countries of the Region can break the link between using health services and falling into – or further into – poverty.