At least half of world’s population can’t afford basic healthcare — WHO

File photo of Resident Doctors
File photo of Resident Doctors

At least half of the world’s population cannot afford essential health services even as a large number of households are being pushed daily into poverty each year, indicates a new report from the World Bank and World Health Organisation, WHO.

In demographics, the global population is the total number of humans currently living. The world population was estimated to have reached 7.6 billion as at October 2017. The United Nations estimates it will further increase to 11.2 billion by the year 2100.

A press statement released by the international health agency on Wednesday also said even for those who can afford to pay for these services, about 800 million of them spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or family member.

The report shows that for almost 100 million people, these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on just $1.90 or less a day.

This is in relation to findings released in the Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report, which was simultaneously published in Lancet Global Health.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO said it is completely unacceptable that half of the world still lacks coverage for the most essential health services.

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“A solution exists: Universal Health Coverage (UHC) allows everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship,” he said.

World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim said the report makes it clear that if nations are serious, not just about better health outcomes, but also about ending poverty, they must urgently scale up efforts on universal health coverage.

“Investments in health, and more generally investments in people, are critical to build human capital and enable sustainable and inclusive economic growth. But the system is broken: we need a fundamental shift in the way we mobilise resources for health and human capital, especially at the country level. We are working on many fronts to help countries spend more and more effectively on people, and increase their progress towards universal health coverage,” he said.

Though progress was recorded in some countries, the report says, ”progress is uneven.”

The report shows that the 21st century has seen an increase in the number of people able to obtain some key health services. These services include, immunisation and family planning, as well as antiretroviral treatment for HIV and insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.

In addition, the report adds that fewer people are now being ‘tipped’ into extreme poverty, than at the turn of the century.

PREMIUM TIMES reports that the report is a key point of discussion at the global Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017, currently taking place in Tokyo, Japan.

The Forum is cosponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UHC2030, the leading global movement advocating for UHC, UNICEF, the World Bank, and WHO.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake are attending the event, in addition to heads of state and ministers from over 30 countries including the Nigerian minister of health, Isaac Adewole.

According to the report, there are wide gaps in the availability of services in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

WHO stated that the challenge is more in affluent regions such as Eastern Asia, Latin America and Europe, where a growing number of people are spending at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on out-of-pocket health expenses.

“For example, only 17 per cent of mothers and children in the poorest fifth of households in low- and lower-middle income countries received at least six of seven basic maternal and child health interventions, compared to 74 per cent for the wealthiest fifth of households,” the report stated.

Nigeria is identified as one of those countries where many citizens cannot obtain essential health services and have to pay through their nose to obtain medical care.

According to Mr. Adewole, who spoke during the fifth World Universal Health Coverage Day in Abuja, he said though UHC is enshrined in the nation’s constitution, the government has a statutory role to ensure all citizens irrespective of the geographical divide have access to affordable and needed health services in an equitable manner.

Mr. Adewole said though Nigeria did not commit to UHC until 2014, the government has since been making efforts in achieving the UHC standard.

“As part of our efforts, we are working tirelessly on improving the functionality of the primary health care systems by making functional at least one PHC facility per ward, scaling 10,000 functional PHC facilities over the next few years as they are the gateway to preventive care in Nigeria,” he said.

However, the efforts are yet to yield desired results as the National Health Act, which is part of the plans aimed at achieving UHC is yet to be implemented though the National Assembly has promised to provide for it in the 2018 budget.

The Nigeria Health Insurance Scheme, which is also meant to reduce out of pocket spending has also not been effective with only about five per cent of Nigerians are covered under the scheme. The scheme as structured at present does not cover those within the state or private sector.

Furthermore, there are still some health services that are as well not covered under the health insurance scheme, meaning that enrolees still have to pay out of their pockets to obtain these.

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