The Elders are independent global leaders – originally brought together by Nelson Mandela – who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering, and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Working both publicly and through private diplomacy, the Elders engage with global leaders and civil society to help resolve conflict and address its root causes. They challenge injustice, promote good governance, and inspire ethical leadership.

A key area of the Elders work focusses on achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – coverage that will see everyone receive the health care they need without suffering financial hardship. 

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Across the world, hundreds of millions of people are currently denied life-saving health services or are plunged into poverty because they are forced to pay unaffordable fees for their care. This burden is particularly felt by women, children and adolescents, who often have high needs for healthcare but least access to financial resources.

We believe that this represents one of the best investments of public financing and politic capital a leader will ever make 

The Elders' position paper on UHC delves into how the coverage can be achieved globally and the four key proposals vital for ensuring its success. According to the paper UHC can be achieved by countries increasing the supply and quality of health services and reducing barriers that stop people accessing care.


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Strong political leadership from the head of government is needed to deliver successful UHC reforms. Increasing public financing for health will not be sufficient – The Elders stressing that governments also need to ensure these resources are used efficiently and fairly to scale-up the supply of quality health services for everyone. Health systems must be strengthened in areas such as human resources, improving access to medicines, health infrastructure and information systems.

UHC is built on foundations of equity and rights where everyone must be covered with services allocated according to people’s needs and the health system financed according to people’s ability to pay.

It is essential that governments move towards UHC in a fair and equitable manner – giving a greater priority to covering high need groups in society (for example the poor and vulnerable) over privileged groups who already have better access to healthcare.

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The four Elders proposals for achieving UHC:

  • UHC is the best way to achieve the health Sustainable Development Goal
  • UHC delivers substantial health, economic and political benefits
  • Women, children and adolescents must be covered as a priority
  • Public financing is the key to UHC

Whilst the challenge is great, with political commitment UHC is achievable. As the development economist and Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen argued in 2015, UHC is not a fantasy; countries around the world have proved that it is “an affordable dream”.

Success stories like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Rwanda show that, at all income levels, countries can make dramatic progress towards UHC relatively quickly and that this can deliver substantial health, economic and political benefits.Despite signing international agreements on UHC, some countries are lagging behind their peers and are only making gradual progress or are leaving vulnerable groups behind. What appears to be lacking in these countries is genuine and sustained political commitment.

The Elders are committed to working with civil society organisations across the world to help generate the required political commitment – prioritising helping governments recognise the importance of reaching UHC equitably and not leaving vulnerable groups behind. 

Stay informed about the work of The Elders throughout the year – visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.