Priority-setting dilemmas arise when trade-offs must be made regarding the kinds of services that should be provided and to whom, thereby withholding other services from individuals or groups that could benefit from them. Currently, it is practically impossible for lower-income countries to provide dialysis for all patients with kidney failure; however, the fundamental premise of the human right to health, while acknowledging the current resource constraints, is the progressive realization of access to care for all. In this article we outline the rationale for priority setting, starting with the global goal of achieving universal health coverage, the prerequisites for fair and transparent priority setting, and discuss how these may apply to expensive care such as dialysis. Priority is inherently a value-laden process, and cannot be whittled down to technical considerations of clinical or cost effectiveness alone. Fair and transparent priority setting should originate from population health needs, be based on evidence, and be associated with ethical values or principles. This requires effective engagement with relevant stakeholders. Once policies are developed and implemented, good oversight is crucial to ensure accountability and to provide iterative feedback such that the goals of universal health coverage may be progressively realized.