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12th December 2020 marks the seventh year of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day, where the international community comes together to renew its commitment to health for all by 2030.

In approach, universal health coverage, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), varies across different countries – no one size fits all.  It does not necessitate the provision of all possible services, nor that all health interventions should be free. Instead, UHC should include a full spectrum of essential services, from health promotion to prevention and treatment, available to everyone and driven and influenced by the context of different geographies.

Equitable access to health services, without experiencing financial hardship, should be a reality for everyone, everywhere. Achieving this requires the provision of quality health services to marginalised populations, particularly women and girls and populations living in hard-to-reach areas. It also requires strategies and financing to continue health system strengthening, to further reduce disease burden and respond to new diseases and other threats.

The emergence of a novel coronavirus in 2019, serves as a stark reminder as to why developing resilient health infrastructure is so vital. The pandemic has diverted human and financial resources away from existing disease burdens and this in turn is slowing progress being made along the pathway towards universal health coverage. However, responding to the pandemic has also led to opportunities to adapt and improve interventions, further prioritise research and rapidly expand the use of digital technology. New knowledge and evidence is already helping to shape efforts to build health systems’ resilience.

Malaria Consortium is working closely with national governments in countries with varying degrees of disease burden to help build credible roadmaps in support of the reforms needed to achieve UHC. A key first step is to ensure that the burden of preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and others is reduced by improving disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, increasing access to quality treatment at all levels of the health system and strengthening the health workforce. Once this foundation is in place, it creates opportunity for the health system to perform effectively and the next steps on the roadmap to be prioritised.

Roadmaps to UHC must plot a pathway through the complex and changing needs of different geographies. Effective surveillance and subsequent and appropriate responses need to be developed. Responses should be targeted and include operational research and risk modelling to ascertain the best-suited interventions and barriers to delivery, facilitating understanding as to which tools work best and when. Tailored, country-specific plans that aim to build and finance motivated and trained health workforces –  that are adaptable for unforeseen changes, like pandemics –  will help to accelerate progress along the pathway toward UHC.

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Cover photo: A community distributor of seasonal malaria chemoprevention drugs makes her way through her community. (Credit: Sophie Garcia/Malaria Consortium)