Universal health coverage (UHC) means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It covers the full continuum of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
Every country has a different path to achieving UHC and deciding what to cover based on the needs of their people and the resources at hand. However, the importance of access to health services and information as a basic human right is universal.
To make health for all a reality, all people must have access to high quality services for their health and the health of their families and communities. To do so, skilled health workers providing quality, people-centred care; and policy-makers committed to investing in universal health coverage are essential.
Universal health coverage requires strong, people-centred primary health care. Good health systems are rooted in the communities they serve. They focus not only on preventing and treating disease and illness, but also on helping to improve well-being and quality of life.
As a foundation for UHC, WHO recommends reorienting health systems using a primary health care (PHC) approach. Achieving UHC is a WHO strategic priority, with the goal of 1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage by 2025.
In countries with fragile health systems, we focus on technical assistance to build national institutions and service delivery to fill critical gaps in emergencies. In more robust health system settings, we drive public health impact towards health coverage for all through policy dialogue for the systems of the future and strategic support to improve performance.
This work is supported by normative guidance and agreements; data, research and innovation; and leadership in the realms of diplomacy, advocacy, gender equality, health equity and human rights, multisectoral action, and finance.
WHO’s work is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target 3.8, which focuses on achieving universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
The UHC service coverage index (SDG indicator 3.8.1) increased from 45 in 2000 to 68 in 2019, and then stagnated through 2021, depriving millions of people of live-saving and health-enhancing interventions. About 2 billion people are facing catastrophic or impoverishing health spending (SDG indicator 3.8.2) and inequalities continue to be a fundamental challenge for UHC as aggregated data masks within-country inequalities in service coverage.
The COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted services and exacerbated financial hardship and inequities.
WHO has a range of evidence-informed approaches and tools to support countries get back on track towards the progressive realization of UHC and Health for All.