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One billion people can’t afford health care

A billion people can’t afford to pay for health care, the World Health Organisation said yesterday (Monday).

And another 100 million people a year are plunged into poverty, by struggling to pay for it, the United Nations health body said.

Launching a global drive for universal health care, the organisation urged all countries, rich and poor, to make healthcare services more accessible.

"For many, health services just don't exist, for others they are not affordable,” said the WHO’s David Evans.

Talking about the findings of The World Health Report 2010, he said: “When they're not affordable, it means you either choose not to use them or you suffer severe financial hardship."

The report mentioned a study by Harvard University in 2007, which found that medical bills played a part in 62 per cent of family bankruptcies.

No one in need of healthcare, whether curative or preventive, should risk financial ruin as a result,” said WHO director general, Margaret Chan introducing the report.

"As the world grapples with economic slowdown, globalisation of diseases... and growing demands for chronic care... the need for universal health coverage, and a strategy for financing it, has never been greater," it said.

"There is no magic bullet to achieving universal access. Nevertheless, a wide range of experiences from around the world suggests that countries can move forward faster."

About 20 to 40 per cent of money spent on health is wasted, said the WHO, mostly through buying expensive but unneeded drugs, hospital inefficiency and bad management of health care workers’ time. Globally, more than half all medicines are wrongly prescribed, dispensed, or sold and half of all patients fail to take their medication as prescribed. More targeted use of medicines could save countries up to five per cent of health spending, it said.

To get better value for money spent on health, the report set out 10 areas for improvement including unnecessary spending on drugs, targeting medicines properly and using generic drugs over branded ones, where possible. Some countries also pay much more for medicines than others and in some places, prices are as much as 67 times the international average. France’s policy of substituting branded medicines with generic s ones saved about £1.2 billion in 2008, it said.

The report also highlighted the link between low maternal death rates and the presence of a skilled health worker during childbirth, which is much more likely to happen in richer countries.

Hayley attribution