Universal Health Coverage and the Public Good in Africa: An Anthropological Study

Funded by the European Research Council (Panel SH5), this project critically examines moves towards Universal Health Coverage in four African countries, and associated debates about the public good.

Hospital Kenya

How are seemingly universal concepts such as solidarity, obligation and the public good defined and contested in local contexts? Photo: Ruth Prince

Our countries of study include Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Tanzania - representing three geographical and political regions which offer comparative potential due to differences in histories of state formation, colonialism, welfare, and transnational involvement in healthcare. In each of these regions, several countries have implemented UHC reforms and are piloting various ways of expanding health insurance.

Our research explores how African governments are experimenting with universal health coverage, and what this means for the relationship between the state and its citizens.



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News and Blog

  • Covid-19 in East Africa Oct. 20, 2020

    Associate professor Ruth Prince at Helsam and Professor Paul Wenzel Geissler at the Department of Social Anthropology write about the early days of Covid-19 in East Africa.

  • Research Fellow - Awarded the 2020 Audrey Richards Prize Sep. 22, 2020

    We are thrilled to announce Jacinta Victoria S. Muinde, Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Institute of Health and Society at UiO has been awarded the ASAUK (African Studies Association of the UK) Audrey Richards Prize 2020 for the best PhD dissertation in African Studies.


We focus on four main research questions:

  1. Do moves towards UHC engage with the state and citizenship, and with public and private institutions, in new ways?
  2. How are seemingly universal concepts such as solidarity, obligation and the public good defined and contested in local contexts?
  3. How do UHC reforms, such as new forms of health insurance, intersect with formal social protection policies?
  4. How do UHC reforms intersect with informal networks of social support, such as those composed through kinship, religious or neighborhood affiliations?

Theoretically ambitious and comparatively driven, the project aspires to a critically engaged anthropology that addresses both the politics of the possible –struggles for social transformation and the public good— and the ways progressive policies may be limited by specific social, economic and political contexts.


Defined by the WHO as ensuring that all people can use the health services they need without financial hardship, UHC is a powerful concept that approaches public health as a matter of justice and obligation and is included in the Sustainable Development Goals. While UHC reforms are being experimented with across the globe, UHC is particularly important in Africa given the recent history of public health on the continent.  Read more about the background of the project.


European Research Council (ERC), Starting Grant (StG)

Start - finish

2018 - 2023

Published Oct. 16, 2017 5:00 PM - Last modified Oct. 20, 2020 7:42 AM