What is Universal health coverage? What is the impact of the health workforce crisis on universal health coverage?

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In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution urging governments to commit themselves to universal health coverage (UHC). UHC refers to all people having access to an essential package of quality health services without the risk of financial hardship associated with paying for healthcare. To put it simply, UHC has three dimensions:

  • Population: what proportion of the population will be covered?
  • Services: which interventions will be included in the benefit package?
  • Financial protection: what proportion of the costs will be covered by pooled funds?

For countries to achieve and sustain UHC, they need to consider how they will address all three dimensions.

In many countries, universal coverage of health services is limited, at least in part, by acute shortages of skilled health workers, particularly in remote and rural areas. Without sufficient numbers of qualified health workers at the primary care level, it will not be possible to increase coverage of essential services. Even if medicines are readily available and provided free at the point of use, without health workers they will not reach the people who need them. Health workers are often poorly supported, trained and equipped, under-paid and unequally distributed. All of these factors reduce the impact that health workers have on health outcomes and, unless they are concurrently addressed, a weak health workforce will undermine any effort to achieve UHC.

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