Universal Health Coverage Day

Universal health coverage saves lives, alleviates poverty and boosts growth

"Health protection is a source of employment opportunities," says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. "Let’s make Universal Health Coverage a reality for all."

Statement | 12 December 2015
© Curt Carnemark / World Bank
On Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day we acknowledge that more needs to be done to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to quality health care without suffering financial hardship.

The ILO estimates that in 2015 more than 90 per cent of the global population living in low-income countries has no health protection and that more than half of the global rural population does not have access to needed health care. Only a fraction (5.6 per cent) of the world’s older population benefits from universal health and long-term care.

The unacceptable reality is that gaps in health protection result in preventable pain and death of millions of women, men and children. It also pushes countless people into poverty when they have to pay for their or their family’s care. Yet they are merely seeking that which should be available to all: the right to social security, and the right to health protection and equitable access to needed care without discrimination.

Well-designed universal health protection, in conjunction with national social protection floors, alleviates the burden caused by ill health. Health protection coverage also reduces the indirect costs of disease and disability, such as lost years of income due to short- and long-term disability, care of family members, and the impaired education and social development of children due to sickness. Clearly, the role of UHC in poverty reduction can be significant.

Many countries from Thailand to Colombia and Rwanda have shown and are showing that it is feasible to make the policy choices that can progressively deliver universal health coverage even when national income is relatively low.

In these countries the relationship between spending on universal health protection and economic well-being is clearly established. Quite apart from the immediate results in improving health and reducing poverty, we know that healthier workers have a higher productivity and labour supply increases if morbidity and mortality rates are lower.

Moreover, health protection is a source of employment opportunities. The ILO estimates that the world is short of some 10.3 million health workers. Filling this gap has the potential to provide decent jobs and stimulate economic activity in related sectors.

Universal health coverage will improve the lives of millions and contribute significantly towards achieving the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Let’s make Universal Health Coverage a reality for all.