Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Universal Health Coverage in 2016: Three Things to Watch

This post originally appeared on Thompson Reuters Foundation


2015 was quite the year for universal health coverage.

In September, 193 countries formally endorsed a new blueprint for the world we want, and with it, the goal of achieving universal health coverage everywhere. This ambitious target signals a growing global consensus that we can—and must—prioritize the right to health without the risk of financial hardship.

The advocates who made this possible are already driving the conversation from “why” universal health coverage makes sense, to “how” we make it a reality. I see three things to look for in 2016 to gauge whether we are on track to answer that question.

G7—Germany Passes the Baton to Japan

In January, Japan will take over the G7 Presidency from Germany.

During her tenure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel set a high bar by launching a new multi-stakeholder initiative—“Roadmap: Healthy Systems – Healthy Lives”—to determine the best pathway to resilient health systems.

Japan sees universal health coverage as the answer. Next week, the country will host an historic conference on the pivotal role of universal health coverage in the new development era. After Ebola’s stark reminder that health system vulnerabilities do not respect borders, the meeting will emphasize building systems that bend, not break, under pressure.

Ebola Health Worker
Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ USAID

The stakes are high. G7 countries represent more than 64 percent of net global wealth. With Japan prepared to champion universal health coverage at major meetings throughout the year, all eyes will be watching to see whether other countries—particularly other G7 leaders—follow suit.

Measurement Matters

What gets measured, gets done. Next year, the indicators for the new Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted—and with them, the methods by which we’ll track progress toward universal health coverage.

It’s essential that we get these indicators right. After all, health services do little (or worse, do harm) if they are low quality or neglect the people who need them the most. And having concrete measures gives citizens a way to gauge their country’s progress, and to encourage their leaders along the way.

Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch.

Earlier this year, WHO and the World Bank Group released the first global monitoring report to expose gaps in health service provision and financial risk protection.

Reaching everyone isn’t easy, especially when we’re talking about large-scale programs that are typically less than a decade old. Still, it must be done. It’s the only way to ensure we are putting the poor and marginalized first, not last.

Country Leadership

The new global goals underscore the need for all countries to take development into their own hands. Strong political commitment, innovative financing mechanisms, and the adoption of novel technologies will be essential to make universal health coverage a reality. Fortunately, we’re seeing signs that leaders are embracing all three.

In the past year, Nigerian policymakers launched an electronic system that allows health workers to track and share patient information for roughly 90 million citizens. Kenya recently introduced free maternal health services across the country and eliminated user fees at lower-level facilities.

Indonesia’s compulsory national health insurance system will celebrate its first birthday in January 2016, which aims to help those who are too poor to afford health insurance but not poor enough to qualify for government assistance.

Dontal hospital

And the Affordable Care Act was upheld in the United States Supreme Court this past June, green-lighting health insurance subsidies to all qualifying Americans. As the former Chief Counsel to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who fought tirelessly for the right to health, I was particularly moved by this signal that health for all is gathering steam in my own country.

2016: A Year to Watch

Over the past few years, it has been inspiring and encouraging to see how support for realizing universal health coverage has grown. UHC is a key pillar of building more resilient health systems that reach everyone, everywhere—an increasingly urgent task given the threats posed to human health by the intersecting forces of climate change, urbanization, and globalization.

This Universal Health Coverage Day, let us remember that while the road may be hard, the payoff will be worth it: a world where everyone—absolutely everyone—has the same chance at leading a healthy life.

Leave a comment