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World Momentum Builds for Universal Health Coverage

Author: Yanzhong Huang, Senior Fellow for Global Health
March 9, 2012


It might seem surprising, but just as the world is recovering from the most serious financial shock since the World War II, governments around the world are engaging in serious discussions on how to expand health coverage.

This new wave of universal health coverage, or UHC, has touched nearly 100 countries, all studying how to institute government-funded programs of health care. This concept is taking off in populous countries and traditionally UHC "blind spots," such as Indonesia, China, India and South Africa. Combined, these four countries account for 40 percent of the world's population. Unlike the US, emerging economies are not buying the argument that health care is largely the responsibility of individuals and businesses, with a public provision relegated to special interests, including the elderly, veterans and the indigent.

The first wave came in the 19th century after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced comprehensive medical care that covered large segments of blue-collar workers. Germany's 1883 Health Insurance Bill and other social legislations formed the basis of the modern welfare state. In the post–World War era, most industrialized democracies and many socialist countries established health programs so that all people had access to affordable health care. According to the International Labor Organization, nearly 50 countries had attained near universal health coverage by 2008.

The next wave is among emerging economies.

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