WHO, World Bank: Healthcare costs have caused extreme poverty — or made things worse — for 500 million people

More than half a billion people have slid or slid further into extreme poverty because of healthcare costs, and COVID-19 likely has interrupted two decades of progress the World Health Organization and World Bank have made in creating universal health coverage, two reports by the organizations show.

Although the WHO and World Bank said healthcare costs were responsible for landing 500 million people in extreme poverty or worsening their debt before the pandemic, the virus likely drove this number higher, according to a Dec. 12 news release. COVID-19 created the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s, the organizations said.

Immunization coverage also decreased for the first time in 10 years, the reports show. There was an increase in deaths from TB and malaria as well.

In 2019, 68 percent of the global population had healthcare coverage of essential services, according to the reports. But there had not been major improvements in affordability, with 90 percent of households suffering from major out-of-pocket health spending already at or below the poverty line.

"There is no time to spare," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO director-general. "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. This means strengthening public spending on health and social support and increasing their focus on primary healthcare systems that can provide essential care close to home."


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