Press statement

Addressing inequalities to ensure health and rights for all

Statement by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, on the occasion of Universal Health Coverage Day

12 December 2021
Winnie Byanyima
Executive Director of UNAIDS
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

As we commemorate Universal Health Coverage Day 2021, the world is entering year three of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is safe until everyone is safe. It shows how pandemics expose intersecting inequalities among people, countries and communities.

Universal health coverage means that all individuals and communities can access the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. But with at least half the world’s population lacking access to essential health services even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much work to do.

We must urgently focus on three things:

  • First, addressing the inequalities that prevent us from achieving universal health coverage and from ending AIDS.
    • We need people-centred data systems that highlight inequalities and prioritize work to address them.
    • We must put human rights at the centre. The Political Declaration of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage in 2019 called on countries to “reach the furthest behind first”.
  • Second, strengthening support to community-based and community-led responses.
    • Four decades of the AIDS response have demonstrated that such support is a crucial pillar for effective pandemic responses.
    • Community engagement should be an integral part of health systems.
  • Third, bolstering investment in health, sustainable and innovative financing, and ambitious thresholds for financial commitments.
    • The Abuja Declaration, signed by African governments, to spend 15% of revenues on health is such an example.
    • To achieve universal health coverage and pandemic control, we need a paradigm shift in global health financing and investments in community-led, human rights-based, people-centred and gender transformative responses.

On this Universal Health Coverage Day, I call for support and urgent action to ensure health and rights for all.


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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