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17 Dec, 2014

Global Coalition Launched to Help the World’s Poorest Access Affordable Health Coverage

12 DECEMBER 2014 (Rockefeller Foundation media release) – A new global coalition of more than 500 leading health and development organizations worldwide is urging governments to accelerate reforms that ensure everyone, everywhere, can access quality health services without being forced into poverty. The coalition was launched today, on the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day, 12 December 2014, to stress the importance of universal access to health services for saving lives, ending extreme poverty, building resilience against the health effects of climate change and ending deadly epidemics such as Ebola.

Universal Health Coverage Day marks the two-year anniversary of a United Nations resolution, unanimously passed on 12 December 2012, which endorsed universal health coverage as a pillar of sustainable development and global security. Despite progress in combatting global killers such as HIV/AIDS and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus and diphtheria, the global gap between those who can access needed health services without fear of financial hardship and those who cannot is widening.

Each year, 100 million people fall into poverty because they or a family member becomes seriously ill and they have to pay for care out of their own pockets. Around one billion people worldwide can’t even access the health care they need, paving the way for disease outbreaks to become catastrophic epidemics.

“The need for equitable access to quality health care has never been greater, and there is unprecedented demand for universal health coverage around the world,” said Michael Myers, Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation, which is spearheading Universal Health Coverage Day. “Universal health coverage is an idea whose time has come – because health for all saves lives, strengthens nations and is achievable and affordable for every country.”

More Countries Embracing Universal Health Coverage

For much of the 20th century, universal health coverage was limited to a few high-income countries, but in the past two decades, a number of lower- and middle-income countries have successfully embraced reforms to make quality health care universally available. Countries as diverse as Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, Rwanda, Turkey and Thailand have made tremendous progress toward universal health coverage in recent years. Today, the two most populous countries, India and China, are pursuing universal health coverage, and more than 80 countries have asked the World Health Organization for implementation assistance.

“Putting people’s health needs ahead of their ability to pay stems poverty and stimulates growth,” said Dr. Tim Evans, Senior Director for the Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice at the World Bank Group. “Universal health coverage is an essential ingredient to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity within a generation.”

Strong Health Systems Protect and Improve Lives

The 500+ organizations participating in the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day coalition represent a diverse cross-section of global health and development issues, including infectious diseases, maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases and palliative care. Across these issues, knowledge and technologies exist to save and improve lives in significant numbers, but the impact of these tools is severely hampered by lack of equitable access to quality health services.

“Ebola is only the most recent example of why universal health coverage is the most powerful concept in public health,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation at the World Health Organization. “Investing in strong, equitable health systems is the only way to truly protect and improve lives, particularly in the face of emerging threats like the global rise of non-communicable diseases and increasingly severe natural disasters.”

Events Worldwide Urge ‘Health for All. Everywhere.’

The theme for the first-ever Universal Health Coverage Day is “Health for All. Everywhere.” Organizations around the world are calling on policymakers to prioritize universal health coverage, and are hosting events on 12 December to catalyze action, including:

  • New York, USA: High-level event on Ebola and resilience, organized by the Permanent Missions of France, Japan, Germany and Senegal to the United Nations, in collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
  • London, UK: Expert panel at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on creating resilient, equitable health systems, organized in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation and Action for Global Health.
  • New Delhi, India: High-level event on universal health coverage implementation in both India and the global context, convened by the Public Health Foundation of India, Oxfam India and the World Health Organization Country Office for India.

An International Labour Organization study shows that 80 per cent of the population across 44 countries are without any health protection and are therefore deprived of the right to health. These countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Globally, some 40 per cent of the population is excluded from social protection in health. The study “Addressing the Global Health Crisis: Universal Health Protection Policies” says that similar major gaps also exist in Asia. In India, for example, more than 80 per cent of people lack health protection coverage. Other countries showing substantial coverage gaps include Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Haiti, Honduras, and Nepal.


Health is a human right and a cornerstone of sustainable development and global security. Universal health coverage changes the way that health care is financed and delivered – so it is more equitable and more effective.


  • Lack of affordable, quality health care traps families and nations in poverty.
  • Worldwide, 1 billion people lack basic health care, and 100 million fall into poverty every year trying to access needed services.
  • ~1/3 of households in Africa and Southeast Asia borrow money or sell assets to pay for health care.


  • Countries of all income levels, including some of the world’s poorest, have enacted policy reforms toward universal health coverage.
  • Countries implementing universal health coverage are seeing the benefits: healthier communities and stronger economies.
  • There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Countries are designing their own unique pathways toward health for all and exchanging lessons learned.


  • The Ebola crisis is only the most recent example of the urgent need to strengthen health systems.
  • The poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of preventable mother and child deaths, infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases (such as cancer and heart disease).
  • To effectively fight these threats, we must reach everyone, everywhere with health care.


  • Every $1 that a country invests in health today can produce up to $20 in full-income growth within a generation.
  • When health care is accessible and affordable, families can send their children to school, start a business and save for emergencies.
  • Universal health coverage pays a resilience dividend. In times of distress, health minimizes the shock to lives and livelihoods. In times of calm, health promotes community cohesion and economic productivity.


  • Access to quality health care should never depend on where you live, how much money you have or your race, gender or age.
  • The World Health Organization’s constitution affirms that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental human right.
  • More than half of the world’s countries have included the right to health, public health or medical care in their national constitutions.

Click here for more info on The Rockefeller Foundation.

Click here for more info on the World Bank Group.

Click here for more info on the World Health Organization.