WHO urges countries to invest one per cent GDP in primary health care

Hospital with pregnant women [Photo: The New York Times]
Hospital with pregnant women [Photo: The New York Times]

Countries must invest at least one per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) in primary health care development in order to achieve Universal Health Coverage, a new World Health Organisation report has said.

The UN health agency in a statement issued on its website on Sunday ahead of the UN General Assembly high-level meeting on UHC said the world needs to double health coverage between now and 2030, as scores of people currently have no access to health care.

The Universal Health Coverage Monitoring Report was published by WHO and its partners.

According to the report, investment in PHCs has become crucial for the world to close the glaring health coverage gaps and meet health targets agreed in 2015.

The report warns that if the current trend continues, up to five billion people will still be unable to access health care by 2030.

“They must also intensify efforts to expand services countrywide,” the report said.

Achieving UHC

World leaders as at 2015 had set 2030 deadline for achieving UHC. Unfortunately, low and middle-income countries, including Nigeria, are yet to meet the deadline.

In Nigeria, the government is still struggling to rehabilitate most of its PHCs to standard where Nigerians can get quality health services.

According to the WHO report, health coverage is generally lower in rural areas than in towns.

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The report cites lack of health infrastructure, shortages of health workers, weak supply systems and poor-quality care leading to low trust among communities as major obstacles to achieving UHC.

The report perfectly describes the Nigerian situation. Many Nigerians spend huge amounts to access health services while some embark on medical tourism outside the country.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said “if we are really serious about achieving universal health coverage and improving people’s lives, we must get serious about primary health care.”

He said that means “providing essential health services like immunisation, antenatal care, healthy lifestyle advice as close to home as possible – and making sure people do not have to pay for this care out of their own pockets.”

Also, Global Director, Health, Nutrition, and Population at the World Bank, Muhammad Pate, said the UHC goal will remain elusive unless countries take urgent steps to protect people from falling into poverty to pay for essential health care.

“Expanding access to quality primary health care services will save more lives and keep health care costs affordable,” he said.

The report

The report said investing an additional $200 billion a year on scaling up primary health care across low and middle-income countries would potentially save 60 million lives, increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030, and contribute significantly to socio-economic development.

“It would represent about three per cent increase on the $ 7.5 trillion already spent on health globally each year,” it said.

Although it said most of the funding should come from the countries themselves, the report made an excuse for the poorest countries, including many affected by conflict, as they may not be able to support the health system.

“Most countries can scale up primary health care using domestic resources – either by increasing public spending on health in general, or by reallocating spending towards primary health care – or by doing both. At present, most countries are underinvesting in primary health care.”

WHO said though there has been a steady increase in UHC since 2000 in lower income countries, the progress has slowed down in recent years and many are still lagging behind.

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