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Universal Health Coverage: A Movement Driven by Ambitious Action

This post is part of a series on Advancing the Global Goals.  

Health care practitioner Thuong Thi My Dung holds a leaflet which shows measures households can take to prevent dengue fever outbreaks. The leaflets, along with posters and other educational materials, are distributed in local communities to raise awareness of dengue fever prevention measures.

During the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly this week, the international community reflects on the world’s most pressing challenges, and an opportunity to work together to address them. For me, health rises to the top of the list of problems—and the list of solutions.

A key part of the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is health—a precondition for sustainable development because it reduces poverty, drives economic progress, builds peaceful societies, and so much more.

When it came time for the world’s leaders to vote a year ago, universal health coverage (UHC)—the concept that every single person can and must have access to quality health services without incurring financial hardship—secured a place in the agenda with little fanfare or drama. But the path to that moment was long, and not without controversy. The idea of putting the health of the poorest first, not last, was until very recently deemed unrealistic and unaffordable.


It took unwavering ambition and an unshakable belief in the human right to health to reach that historic milestone last September: the Alma Ata Declaration in 1978, which named health a fundamental human right and a driver of development; the 2010 World Health Report on health systems financing, which showed how countries across the income spectrum can accelerate progress toward UHC; the 2012 United Nations Resolution on Universal Health Coverage, which is now commemorated annually on UHC Day, December 12.

Learn more about UHC Day 2016

When the new goals were finalized, I couldn’t help but reflect on the United States’ own decades-long efforts to achieve more equitable health systems, a journey I’m humbled to have been a part of. To me, the inclusion of UHC as a global target symbolized an important shift in how we think about delivering on the human right to health.

While nobody knows what challenges the world will face in years to come, we do know this: Investments in strong, equitable health systems will help us overcome those challenges and make communities more resilient and more inclusive. Over the past decade, health improvements—measured by the value of life-years gained—constituted nearly a quarter of full income growth in low- and middle-income countries.

It’s clear that investing in health is both right and smart.

To achieve the bold goal of health for all and all the powerful benefits it brings, we must find new ways to stay ambitious and drive action. The Rockefeller Foundation is proud to support the International Health Partnership’s transition into the International Health Partnership for UHC 2030, a new body that will coordinate global advocacy, action, and accountability to ensure progress toward UHC continues.

UNGA Health UHCThis transformation will be announced today by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), at a high-level event we co-hosted at The Rockefeller Foundation with the International Health Partnership, the WHO, the World Bank Group and the governments of Thailand, South Africa, Japan, Kenya, Indonesia, and Chile.

The UHC movement has come a long way since Alma Ata, and that deserves to be celebrated. But millions are still waiting for health care. Now is the time to push ourselves even further—to deliver on the ambitious agenda laid out by the SDGs—to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can access the quality and affordable health services they need and deserve.

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