By Nathan Benson, UN Foundation Summer 2017 Public Affairs Intern

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, roughly 400 million people around the world do not have access to any essential health services, and many families in low- and middle-income countries are being pushed further into extreme poverty because of exorbitant health care costs.

That is why achieving universal health coverage (UHC) is a key priority for WHO and the new WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who assumed office earlier this month. “Ensuring universal health coverage must be the foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at ending poverty and inequality by 2030. When people are healthy, their families, communities, and countries thrive,” he recently said.

Universal health coverage aims to provide affordable, high-quality health care to every man, women, and child across the globe, regardless of income, racial ethnicity, or the stability of a country. In addition to expanding access to quality health care, financial protection (often in the form of health insurance programs) is also a key pillar of UHC to help ensure that no one is forced into poverty due to health care costs (See this short video about UHC).

During the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) from July 10-19 in New York City, world leaders and civil society partners are coming together to discuss how far we have come in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including reviewing the new report, “Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” which will highlight the progress made on SDGs and where more support is needed to achieve them.

Building on WHO’s commitment to UHC, on July 17 during the HLPF, the UHC2030 International Health Partnership will host an event, “End Extreme Poverty and Share Prosperity through Achieving UHC by 2030,” where WHO will present a new report that will be published in the Lancet Global Health, “Cost Estimates of Attaining SDG3.” The report will provide recommendations and estimates for the investments needed to achieve the health targets in the SDGs in 67 low- and middle-income countries.

In addition to protecting the health, security, and prosperity of millions around the world, strengthening health systems and nations through UHC is also a smart economic investment. More than 360 economists from 53 countries have signed the  Economists’ Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, which recognizes UHC as an “essential pillar of sustainable development” and calls upon global leaders to act.

Why? Because it will help the father in South Africa re-enter the work force to provide for his family, allow the little girl in Nigeria to live past her 5th birthday and receive an education, and immunize the baby in Pakistan from the paralyzing polio virus. It should be a human right that parents don’t have to decide whether to provide health care for their families or feed them.

Achieving UHC will ease the burden of many families, ensure the health of the world’s most vulnerable communities, and help strengthen the national health systems that collectively enhance the health and stability of all nations. Investment in UHC will also ensure that countries can achieve progress across multiple SDGs. As we come together to educate our family and friends on this critical issue, we can be an incredible force for making universal health coverage a reality.

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[Photo: SEAR/A. Cabellero-Reynolds]