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More than 500m people cannot afford healthcare due to extreme poverty

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Njadvara Musa (Damaturu)
13 December 2021   |   4:07 am
Fresh statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank have indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic could likely halt two decades of global progress towards Universal Health Coverage.

(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Yobe flags off COVID-19 massive vaccination campaign
Fresh statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank have indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic could likely halt two decades of global progress towards Universal Health Coverage. The organisations also revealed that more than half a billion people are being pushed into extreme poverty due to health expenses.

The findings were contained in two complementary reports, launched on Universal Health Coverage Day, highlighting the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people’s ability to obtain and pay for healthcare.

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

Consequently, for example, immunisation coverage dropped for the first time in 10 years, and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.

The virus also triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, making it increasingly difficult for people to pay for medicare. Even before the pandemic, half a billion people were being pushed (or still pushed further) into extreme poverty because of payments they made for healthcare. The organisations expect that that the number is now considerably higher.

“There is no time to spare,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“All governments must immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure every 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,” he added.

In the first two decades of this century, many governments had made progress on service coverage. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, 68 per cent of the world’s population was covered by essential health services, such as pre-and post-natal care and reproductive health services, immunisation services, treatment for diseases like HIV, TB and malaria and services to diagnose and treat non-communicable ailments like cancer, heart conditions and diabetes.

But they had not made such advances in ensuring affordability. As a result, the poorest groups and those living in rural areas are the least able to obtain health services, and the least likely to be able to cope with the consequences of paying for them. 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.

Since the outbreak of the virus, the World Bank Group has deployed over $157 billion to fight the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history.

ALSO, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State has flagged off the massive vaccination of people above 18 against the disease.

Kicking off the campaign at the weekend in Damaturu, the governor said that the Federal Government exercise, being staged through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA), is to increase the number of people being vaccinated against the life-threatening ailment.

He was represented by his deputy, Idi Barde Gubana, who doubles as the Chairman of the Committee on Prevention and Control of COVID-19.