‘plunge 100m into poverty’
- More than 100 million people are plunged into
poverty every year by illness or “catastrophic”
medical bills, the World Health Organisation said,
launching a global drive for universal health care.
“In my view, universal coverage is an admirable goal
and a timely one. We have to bite the bullet,” said
WHO Director General Margaret Chan, presenting the
report in Berlin.
“This year’s WHO report is designed to encourage
every country in the world to adopt policies that
will extend policies to more people and reduce the
number of people who risk financial ruin,” added
The agency’s annual report, devoted this year to
financing health systems, underlined that the need
for universal health coverage “has never been
greater” with the economic slowdown, globalisation
of disease and ageing populations that need more
care for chronic conditions.
“If health systems do not find the right answers
now, the bill further down the line is going to keep
getting higher and bigger,” Chan warned.
Since 2005, the WHO’s 192 member states have decreed
that everyone should have access to health services
and no one should suffer financial hardship as a
“On both counts the world is a long way from
universal coverage,” the report said.
The UN health agency found that in countries that
depend heavily on people paying for their services
when they seek care, “health bills push 100 million
people into poverty each year” as many
suffer “catastrophic costs.”
The most successful health care systems in Europe,
Japan, Chile, Mexico, Rwanda and Thailand were based
on pooled resources, helping to spread the financing
burden, it added.
The report highlighted three “fundamental,
interrelated” problems that stopped countries moving
closer to universal coverage.
They included an over-reliance on such direct
payments, the absence of the full range of care and
treatment, and the “inefficient and inequitable use”
“At a conservative estimate, 20 to 40 percent of
health resources are being wasted,” the report said.
Although the poorest countries are the hardest hit,
the report also underlined that disparities even
within some of the richest nations also harmed care.
The report cited a study by Harvard University in
2007 indicating that medical bills contributed to 62
percent of family bankruptcies.
“It’s just not acceptable. And it is not only not
acceptable but it’s not necessary, because something
can be done about it,” David Evans, director of
health systems financing at the WHO told journalists
The report highlighted the link between low maternal
mortality and the presence of a skilled health
worker during childbirth, a feature more likely to
occur in richer countries.
Closing the gap in health cover between rich and
poor in 49 poor countries would save the lives of
more than 700,000 mothers by 2015, while more than
16 million lives would be saved by bridging the
poverty gap in infant care, including immunisation.
The WHO insisted there was scope even for poor
nations to allocate 15 percent of state spending for
health and double the funds available, while
international development aid should be brought to
“All countries can take immediate steps to move
towards universal coverage,” Chan said.