COVID-19 effect: Healthcare costs push over half billion into extreme poverty

A wide gap in affordable healthcare access, combined with reduced income can exacerbate crisis

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 13 December 2021

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted global health services and dealt a debilitating blow to people’s “ability to obtain healthcare and pay for it”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Around half a billion people were pushed into extreme poverty because they had to pay healthcare costs, 

The pandemic halted work being done to achieve Universal Health Coverage, while also plunging a significant population into economic crisis, the United Nations health agency noted. 

A wide gap in affordable healthcare access, combined with reduced income can exacerbate the crisis for the poorest population. 

In the first year of the pandemic, the health systems were spread thin, making it difficult to run other services such as the general immunisation programmes and treatment of other communicable diseases, WHO said. “As a result, for example, immunization coverage dropped for the first time in ten years, and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased. “

Healthcare costs were driving around half a billion people into extreme poverty and the number is estimated to have gone up, the organization noted. 

To make matters worse, around 90 per cent of households “incurring impoverishing out-of-pocket health spending are already at or below the poverty line”, according to the UN agency. 

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, almost 1 billion people were spending more than 10 per cent of their household budget on health,” pointed out Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank. 

All governments should immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure health coverage for each citizen, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

WHO and World Bank, in a joint statement, urged countries to “improve the collection, timeliness and disaggregation of data on access, service coverage, out-of-pocket health spending and total expenditure”.

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