One billion people cannot afford health care, says WHO

Poverty and hunger are widespread in the streets of Gode, Ethiopia, where the 746th Air Expeditionary Wing delivered humanitarian supplies on Friday, March 24, 2006. The humanitarian effort is part of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa - Flex mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Ann P. Knabe)

For about 1 billion people, healthcare is unaffordable. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/Maj. Ann P. Knabe /U.S. Air Force)

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 billion people cannot afford any form of paid health  care whatsoever. Not only that, reports Reuters, but paying for healthcare pushes about 100 million people into poverty each year.

Nations that cannot afford health care must increase efficiency

The WHO’s global report on health care pays particular attention to financing, as the number of nations with large numbers of people who can’t afford health care has growth significantly. Considering ways to increase efficiency and use taxes and fund-raising measures to make health care more affordable and less poverty-inducing are of vital importance, particularly if universal coverage is to be the ultimate goal.

David Evans, the WHO’s director of health systems financing, said in a media briefing that the current state of health care worldwide forces people to choose between a rock and a hard place.

“When (health services) are not affordable, it means you either choose not to use them or you suffer severe financial hardship,” he said.

WHO plans to improve global health care

In order to keep those who do pay for health care from from sliding into poverty, the WHO recommends that health care and insurance company practices should be tweaked so that 15 to 20 percent of a country’s total health spending amounts to direct, out-of-pocket payments. Currently, there are at least 33 low- to middle-income countries where direct payments amount to more than 50 percent of total health spending. If governments can diversify their revenue sources – sin taxes, currency transaction taxes and wealth taxes are suggested in the report – the spending numbers would reportedly shrink.

Health  care waste

Compounding the problem of 1 billion people who cannot afford healthcare is health care waste. According to WHO director general Margaret Chan, 20 percent to 40 percent of all global health care spending is wasted through purchase of expensive, unnecessary drugs and treatments. Lack of proper medical training also contributes to such inefficiency. Add on the fact that some nations pay as much as 67 times more than the international average for some medicines, and it becomes apparent that the health care dilemma is not one that will be solved quickly.

“There is no magic bullet to achieving universal access,” said Chan. “Nevertheless, a wide range of experiences from around the world suggests that countries can move forward faster.”



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