Medical costs pushed up poverty globally  

Monday, January 10th, 2022 00:00 | By
Medical bills. Photo/Courtesy

Over 500 million people globally have been pushed to poverty rendering them unable to pay for their medical costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, new evidence by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank reveals.

In 2020, the pandemic disrupted health services and stretched countries’ health systems beyond their limits as they struggled to deal with the impact of Covid-19.

As a result, for example, immunisation coverage dropped for the first time in 10 years, and deaths from TB and malaria increased. 

The pandemic also triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, making it increasingly difficult for people to pay for care. It also caused jobs losses and businesses disruptions.

“There is no time to spare. All governments must immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure every one of their citizens can access health services without fear of the financial consequences,” observed Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

This means strengthening public spending on health and social support, and increasing focus on primary health care systems that can provide essential care close to home.

Up to 90 per cent of all households incurring impoverishing out-of-pocket health spending are already at or below the poverty line — underscoring the need to exempt poor people from out-of-pocket health spending, backing such measures with health financing policies that enable good intentions to be realised in practice.

More intense

The reports also warn that financial hardship is likely to become more intense as poverty grows, incomes fall, and governments face tighter fiscal constraints. 

“Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, almost one billion people were spending more than 10 per cent of their household budget on health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank.

According to Uribe, this is not acceptable, especially since the poorest people are hit hardest. 

He added that within a constrained fiscal space, governments will have to make tough choices to protect and increase health budgets.

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