Universal Health Coverage

What is Universal Health Coverage?

The goal of universal health coverage is to ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.

For a community or country to achieve universal health coverage, several factors must be in place, including:

  • A strong, efficient, well-run health system that meets priority health needs through people-centred integrated care (including services for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, noncommunicable diseases, maternal and child health) by:
    • informing and encouraging people to stay healthy and prevent illness;
    • detecting health conditions early;
    • having the capacity to treat disease; and
    • helping patients with rehabilitation.
  • Affordability – a system for financing health services so people do not suffer financial hardship when using them. This can be achieved in a variety of ways.
  • Access to essential medicines and technologies to diagnose and treat medical problems.
  • A sufficient capacity of well-trained, motivated health workers to provide the services to meet patients’ needs based on the best available evidence.

It also requires recognition of the critical role played by all sectors in assuring human health, including transport, education and urban planning.

Universal health coverage has a direct impact on a population’s health. Access to health services enables people to be more productive and active contributors to their families and communities. It also ensures that children can go to school and learn. At the same time, financial risk protection prevents people from being pushed into poverty when they have to pay for health services out of their own pockets. Universal health coverage is thus a critical component of sustainable development and poverty reduction, and a key element of any effort to reduce social inequities. Universal coverage is the hallmark of a government’s commitment to improve the wellbeing of all its citizens.

UHC and the right to health

UHC has been termed “a practical expression of the right to health.” UHC is explicitly enumerated as a core obligation for the realization of children’s right to health. It is also implicit in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which directs states parties to take steps toward the creation of conditions that ensure medical services and attention for all in the event of sickness.

The first of the core right to health obligations identified in General Comment No. 14 (GC 14) of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is “to ensure the right of access to health facilities, goods and services on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups.” The commitment to universality in access to key health services is also implicit in other international and regional human rights instruments.

Significant progress toward UHC, consistent with the requirements of the right to health, has the potential to provide the approximately one billion people currently estimated to lack access to necessary health services the opportunity to obtain them.



Editorial Health and Human Rights journal special issue on UHC



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Type of resource: Books and reports

Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care and pain relief—an imperative of universal health coverage: the Lancet Commission report (2017) - Felicia Marie Knaul, Paul E Farmer, Eric L Krakauer et al.
The Lancet

Open resource
Type of resource: Books and reports

Health and Human Rights Journal – special section on Universal Health Coverage (2016)
Health and Human Rights Journal

Open resource
Type of resource: Manuals and guidelines

Anchoring universal health coverage in the right to health: What difference would it make? Policy brief (2015)

Open resource
Type of resource: Books and reports

Global Health and Foreign Policy (2012) - Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 12 December 2012 (A/67/L.36 and Add.1)

Open resource