Explainer: What is Universal Health Coverage, and what does law have to do with it?

Thursday 11 May, 2023

Universal Health Coverage has been a hot topic of conversation in the health and development sector over the past few years.

But what is exactly is UHC, and why do we need it?

Very simply, providing access to UHC means all people have access to quality health services where and when they need them, without facing financial hardship, for their entire lives.

That could be something as simple as easy access to a blood test for diabetes, or a bigger picture health system change like regulating costs of medicines to treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) to make them more affordable.

UHC enables all people to enjoy the right to health.

Later this year, world leaders will meet to discuss Universal Health Coverage, and reaffirm their commitment to achieving it.

Universal Health Coverage

All member states of the United Nations have committed to achieving UHC by 2030 (UN Sustainable Development Goal 3.8). But most countries are not on track to meet that target, which means most of the world is falling behind on UHC.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered progress, and significantly impacted on access to services and care for people living with NCDs.

In the leadup to the High-Level Meeting in September, negotiations will happen on developing the 2023 UN Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.

The new Political Declaration on UHC will set out country commitments to realizing UHC and will act as an important framework to guide country action and set targets to ensure UHC becomes a reality for all. Addressing the growing burden of NCDs is essential to consider as part of the efforts to achieving UHC. Quite simply, UHC will not be achieved if NCDs - the leading cause of death and disability worldwide - are not included in national UHC packages.

One important aspect of achieving UHC and health for all is the effective use of law and regulation. Law underpins how healthcare systems and services are designed and delivered, and many of the commitments made by countries can only be achieved with the use of law.

To achieve UHC and health for all, it is essential that the role of law in advancing UHC and the need to share knowledge on how to use law effectively to progress UHC is discussed in negotiations and reflected in the 2023 UN Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.

To assist policy makers and public health advocates, the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer has developed a factsheet on using law for action on UHC and NCDs as well as a more detailed Policy brief exploring the connections between law, UHC and NCDs.

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