Ethical Perspective: Five Unacceptable Trade-offs on the Path to Universal Health Coverage

Document Type : Editorial


Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway


This article discusses what ethicists have called “unacceptable trade-offs” in health policy choices related to universal health coverage (UHC). Since the fiscal space is constrained, trade-offs need to be made. But some trade-offs are unacceptable on the path to universal coverage. Unacceptable choices include, among other examples from low-income countries, to expand coverage for services with lower priority such as coronary bypass surgery before securing universal coverage for high-priority services such as skilled birth attendance and services for easily preventable or treatable fatal childhood diseases. Services of the latter kind include oral rehydration therapy for children with diarrhea and antibiotics for children with pneumonia. The article explains why such trade-offs are unfair and unacceptable even if political considerations may push in the opposite direction.


Commentaries Published on this Paper

  • Universal Health Coverage – The Critical Importance of Global Solidarity and Good Governance; Comment on “Ethical Perspective: Five Unacceptable Trade-offs on the Path to Universal Health Coverage”

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  • Defining Pathways and Trade-offs Toward Universal Health Coverage; Comment on “Ethical Perspective: Five Unacceptable Trade-offs on the Path to Universal Health Coverage”

          Abstract | PDF

  • Policy Choices for Progressive Realization of Universal Health Coverage; Comment on “Ethical Perspective: Five Unacceptable Trade-offs on the Path to Universal Health Coverage”

          Abstract | PDF


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