With 5 billion set to miss out on health care, UN holds landmark summit to boost coverage

World Bank/Dominic Chavez Patients seeking treatment at the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Some five billion people risk missing out on health care in 2030, unless countries close glaring gaps in health coverage, a new report revealed on Sunday, as the UN prepares to host a landmark summit to speed up progress on universal health care.

The study, “Primary Health Care on the Road to Universal Health Coverage”, estimates that around 60 million lives could be saved by upping annual spending on primary health care in low and middle-income countries by some $200 billion per year.

Whilst overall coverage has increased steadily since 2000, the UHC report shows big health service gaps in the poorest countries, and those affected by conflict. Rural areas tend to suffer from lower coverage , due to a lack of infrastructure, shortage of health workers, and poor-quality care .

“If we are really serious about achieving universal health coverage and improving people’s lives, we must get serious about primary health care,” declared, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the launch of the report.

“That means providing essential health services like immunization, antenatal care, healthy lifestyle advice as close to home as possible, and making sure people do not have to pay for this care out of their own pockets.”

The report was published ahead of the first-ever high-level summit on universal health coverage (UHC), at UN headquarters in New York, on Monday, one of five official summits taking place during the High-Level Week marking the opening of the new General Assembly session.

The UN is billing the event as the most significant political meeting ever to be held on the topic, with senior representatives from a wide range of relevant organizations – including Heads of State and Government, parliamentarians, senior UN officials, members of civil society, business leaders, and academics – due to attend.

Health and sustainable development

The World Health Organization (WHO), which plays a leading role in supporting countries in the implementation of universal health coverage, believes that health is essential for sustainable development, and has worked with the Kenyan Government on the launch of pilot UHC programmes in a number of Kenyan counties, selected because they have a high prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases, high population density, high maternal mortality, and high incidence of road traffic injuries.

The aim of the pilot programmes is to improve health care by abolishing fees at local health care facilities, and introducing a social health insurance scheme. In one of the counties, Makueni, residents have enthusiastically embraced the plan, and the peace of mind that comes with no longer having to worry about treatment costs.

Progress on universal health coverage, like climate action, is seen as one of the key elements in ensuring that the 2030 Agenda, the UN’s blueprint for a future that is good for the planet, people and prosperity: Sustainable Development Goal 3 calls on the international community to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages”, and achieving UHC is one of the targets the nations of the world set, when adopting the Goals in 2015.

On Sunday, the WHO and partners organised an event in New York, Walk the Talk, described as “a celebration of health in the form of a walk, run, roll or ramble”, to promote healthy lifestyles and action on climate change. Find out more here.

Universal Health Coverage Summit in brief

  • The UHC conference is one of five official Summits taking place during the High-Level Week
  • the UN is billing the event as the most significant political meeting ever to be held on universal health coverage
  • Heads of State and Government, parliamentarians, senior UN officials, members of civil society, business leaders, and academics are due to attend.

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