By Dr Moeti Matshidiso, WHO Regional Director for Africa

This year’s commemoration of World Health Day shines a spotlight on the advantages Universal Health Coverage (UHC) can bring to all people and in all places and also why it is needed so much. It is needed because it ensures that everyone – no matter who they are, no matter where they live and no matter when they need it – can access essential, quality health services without facing financial hardship.

We know that progress towards health-related and broader development goals can only be possible by providing access to essential quality care and protection from financial hardship to everyone, everywhere. Globally, WHO is attempting to get one billion more people to benefit from quality health services and financial protection by 2023, we need to if we want to reach Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.8 on achieving universal health coverage by 2030.

In Africa, the recurrence of major public health events – there were over 100 in 2018 – means that there can be no health security without UHC, and no UHC without health security.  This is why our Director-General Tedros talks about Global Health Security and UHC being two sides of a same coin. A safer world benefits everyone, UHC benefits everyone.

Health systems strengthening for UHC is one of the key instruments for the change offered by the 2030 Agenda. This entails integration of good stewardship, adequate financing, qualified and motivated health workforce, access to quality medicines and health products, functional health information systems and people-centred service delivery systems.

In 2018 our flagship publication “State of Health in the WHO African Region” provided a cross-cutting analysis of the health status, services and systems of individual African countries in the context of UHC and other health-related SDG targets. It identified low funding for health, low availability of services and under-investment in the health workforce.

Considering this, I am accelerating support to countries to re-align their services and consider strategic shifts to achieve UHC. This involves re-assessing their essential services to ensure they are designed for ‘everyone, everywhere and every time’, and then introducing innovative approaches to deliver these services. For example, if we can harness the power of the bulging youth population in the region, and make use of digital solutions, we can put in place innovative systems to deliver UHC for the people of Africa.

In addition to supporting this re-alignment, I am also helping build the evidence base around what works and what does not work in developing and applying UHC principles by documenting practices to implement the core interventions and in setting up comprehensive information analytical capacities in countries to build regional evidence for what works and what doesn’t work.

UHC is not a one-size fits-all approach and each country’s path is unique and different, which is why we have developed a framework of actions to assist countries to select options which best suits their context. I look forward to working with governments and partners in the region to move towards UHC. Together, we can achieve the health and wellbeing we want for our people.