INTERNATIONAL – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday urged all countries to increase spending on primary healthcare by at least one percent of their GDP, so as to close glaring coverage gaps and meet health targets agreed in 2015.
In its latest Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Monitoring Report, the WHO warns that the world will have to double health coverage between now and 2030, the deadline world leaders have set for achieving the UHC, otherwise up to 5 billion people will still be unable to access health care by then.
The report estimates that spending an additional 200 billion US dollars a year on scaling up primary health care across low and middle-income countries would potentially save 60 million lives, increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030, and contribute significantly to socio-economic development.
Countries can do so by either increasing public spending on health in general, or reallocating spending towards primary health care, or by doing both, the report says, given that most countries are under-investing in primary health care at the present.
However, the poorest countries will continue to require assistance from outside and target a lasting improvement to health systems and services countrywide, it adds.
Meanwhile, the WHO calls on countries to scale up service coverage countrywide, especially for lower income countries and rural areas that are still lagging behind in health infrastructure, health workers, supply systems, and the quality of care.
The report also highlights the need to protect people from falling into poverty to pay for essential health care, as more people are suffering the consequences of paying for services out of their own pockets than 15 years ago.
According to the WHO, about 925 million people spend more than 10 percent of their household income on healthcare; 200 million people spend more than 25 percent of their income on health; and impoverishment due to paying for health care increased except among the extremely poor.
"If we are really serious about achieving universal health coverage and improving people's lives, we must get serious about primary health care," says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"That means providing essential health services like immunization, antenatal care, healthy lifestyle advice as close to home as possible -- and making sure people do not have to pay for this care out of their own pockets."
The report came on the eve of a UN General Assembly high-level meeting on the UHC in New York on Monday, when world leaders are supposed to discuss a far-reaching Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.
The declaration will list a number of steps to advance progress towards the UHC, including the WHO's recommendations relating to primary health care, such as the allocation of an additional one percent GDP to primary health care through additional investments or reallocation.