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WHO Report Calls For Countries To Improve Access To Health Services

“Tens of millions of people are pushed into poverty each year as a result of rising costs for health care, the World Health Organization said Monday” as the agency released a report on financing health systems and universal coverage, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports. It also highlights the vulnerability of populations without access to health care services and outlines the steps countries can take to move toward universal health care, according to the article (11/22).

“No one in need of health care, whether curative or preventive, should risk financial ruin as a result,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan writes in the foreword (.pdf) of the report. “As the evidence shows, countries do need stable and sufficient funds for health, but national wealth is not a prerequisite for moving closer to universal coverage. Countries with similar levels of health expenditure achieve strikingly different health outcomes from their investments. Policy decisions help explain much of this difference,” she said (2010).

The WHO “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,'” Agence France-Presse writes. “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,” according to AFP. The report highlighted several main issues that limit countries from moving toward universal health coverage, such as “an over-reliance on such direct payments, the unavailability of the full range of care and treatment, and the ‘inefficient and inequitable use’ of resources,” AFP writes (11/22).

“The WHO said that typically, 20 to 40 percent of health spending is wasted, often through spending on expensive but unnecessary drugs, hospital-related inefficiency and poor use of skilled professionals’ time,” according to Reuters. “To improve efficiency, it suggested 10 areas where changes could be made, including reducing unnecessary spending on drugs, targeting medicines properly and adopting a generics policy whereby any branded medicine for which there is an equally effective generic version is substituted,” the news service writes (11/22).

“Of the approximately $5.3 trillion the world spends on health care every year, about $300 billion disappears in mistakes or corruption, according to European Health care Fraud and Corruption Network, quoted in the report,” SAPA/Times Live adds. The article details other areas of inefficient use of health care funds, also highlighted in the report (11/22).

“At a time when money is tight, my advice to countries is this: before looking for places to cut spending on health care, look first for opportunities to improve efficiency,” Chan wrote in the article. “All health systems, everywhere, could make better use of resources, whether through better procurement practices, broader use of generic products, better incentives for providers, or streamlined financing and administrative procedures,” she said (2010).

To raise funds to boost access to health care, the WHO “suggested governments should look at diversifying sources of revenue from levies such as ‘sin’ taxes on products like tobacco and alcohol, currency transaction taxes, and national ‘solidarity’ taxes on certain sectors,” Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/22).

“A 50 percent increase in tobacco excise taxes would generate $1.4 billion in 22 low-income countries, and a levy of 0.005 percent on currency transactions in India alone could raise about $370 million a year, the WHO said,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports. “So-called sin taxes have the advantage of raising funds and improving health at the same time by reducing consumption of harmful products such as tobacco or alcohol,” the WHO said, according to the news service (Bennett/Doherty, 11/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.