“Universal health coverage in a generation is achievable”

This article was published on September 15 on the World Bank website.

As the father of four children, I know nurse-cleans-newborn-sierra-leone-hospitalhow important access to good, quality health care is. All parents aspire to be able to provide the same for their children. That’s why we at the World Bank Group are working with our partners around the globe to make universal health coverage a reality for all.

Today, universal health coverage means that citizens get the health care they need without suffering severe financial hardship – a concept central to reaching our World Bank Group twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity. Still, 400 million people lack access to essential health services. In developing countries, 6% of people are impoverished, or further impoverished, paying for the health care they need for themselves and their families.

Access to quality health care and financial protection from catastrophic medical expenses is critical to help the poor move up the economic ladder.

Thailand offers a good example: The Thai Network of Rural Doctors increased the number of doctors and nurses serving its rural population while raising basic salaries and introducing incentives to attract and retain health workers. Consequently, Thailand has seen a significant decline in catastrophic health expenditures. In fact, in the poorest rural northeast region of Thailand, the number of impoverished households dropped from 3.4% in 1996 to less than 1.3% in 2006-2009.

In Turkey, an economic crisis in the early 2000s prompted major health reforms that put the country squarely on the path to universal health coverage. Today, more than 95% of the Turkish population is covered by formal health insurance. Infant mortality rates have declined from 28.5 per 1,000 live births in 2003 to 10.1 per 1,000 live births in 2010, and the maternal mortality ratio fell from 61 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 16.4 death per 100,000 live births in 2010.

Worldwide, the health sector has grown at a fast pace, accounting for about 10% of global GDP as well as a major source of employment even during the recent global recession.

Yet this growth has not always been equitable or efficient. Investment has been concentrated in urban areas and among higher-income groups. If we don’t take action to counter this trend, we risk a widening disparity in access and health outcomes between low- and high-income countries, and between the poor and the rich.

By shifting investments toward the achievement of universal health coverage, we could close these gaps. We could end preventable maternal and child deaths by 2030 and save roughly 10 million lives a year, while simultaneously increasing human productivity and employment, and boosting economic growth.

Read full article on the World Bank website.