The World Health Organization (WHO) has encouraged countries to build a fairer and healthier post-COVID-19 world as World Health Day was marked globally.
This was contained in a message by the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, released for the 2021 World Health Day.
“Following the effect of covid 19 on the health system of countries, the WHO is therefore issuing calls for urgent action to improve health for all people.”
According to him, illness and death from COVID-19 have been higher among groups who face discrimination, poverty, social exclusion, and adverse daily living and working conditions – including humanitarian crises.
He said that the pandemic is estimated to have driven between 119 and 124 million more people into extreme poverty adding that;
“There is convincing evidence that it has widened gender gaps in employment, with women exiting the labour force in greater numbers than men over the past 12 months.”
The World Health Organisation further stated that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and approved at record speed and urged governments to ensure that they are available to everyone who needs them.
“But vaccines alone will not overcome COVID-19. Commodities such as medical oxygen and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as reliable diagnostic tests and medicines, are also vital. So are strong mechanisms to fairly distribute all these products within national borders.
The ACT– Accelerator aims to establish testing and treatments for hundreds of millions of people in low and middle–income countries who would otherwise miss out. But it still requires USD22.1 billion to deliver these vital tools where they are so desperately needed,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
The WHO boss noted that these inequities in people’s living conditions, health services, and access to power, money and resources are long-standing, resulting in under-5 mortality rates among children from the poorest households doubling that of children from the richest households and life expectancy for people in low-income countries is 16 years lower than for people in high-income countries.
He said that as countries continue to fight the pandemic, a unique opportunity emerges to build back better for a fairer, healthier world by implementing existing commitments, resolutions, and agreements while also making new and bold commitments.
Invest In Primary Health Care
The Director-General noted that at least half of the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services; more than 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household income on health care, and out of pocket expenses drive almost 100 million people into poverty each year.
He said that as countries move forward post-COVID-19, it will be vital to avoid cuts in public spending on health and other social sectors.
“Such cuts are likely to increase hardship among already disadvantaged groups, weaken health system performance, increase health risks, add to fiscal pressure in the future and undermine development gains. Instead, governments should meet WHO’s recommended target of spending an additional 1% of GDP on primary health care (PHC). Evidence reveals that PHC-oriented health systems have consistently produced better health outcomes, enhanced equity, and improved efficiency. Scaling up PHC interventions across low- and middle-income countries could save 60 million lives and increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030.
“Governments must also reduce the global shortfall of 18 million health workers needed to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030. This includes creating at least 10 million additional full-time jobs globally and strengthening gender equality efforts. Women deliver most of the world’s health and social care, representing up to 70% of all health and care workers, but they are denied equal opportunities to lead it. Key solutions include equal pay to reduce the gender pay gap and recognizing unpaid health care work by women,” he said.
Prioritize Health And Social Protection
Dr Ghebreyesus noted that some countries have already put in place expanded social protection schemes to mitigate these negative impacts of wider social hardship and started a dialogue on how to continue providing support to the communities and people in the future. “But many face challenges in finding the resources for concrete action.
“Those in need and that disadvantaged communities are engaged in planning and implementing programmes. Build safe, healthy and inclusive neighbourhoods
“City leaders have often been powerful champions for improving health – for example, by improving transport systems and water and sanitation facilities. But too often, the lack of basic social services for some communities traps them in a spiral of sickness and insecurity. Access to healthy housing, in safe neighbourhoods, with adequate educational and recreational amenities, is key to achieving health for all. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of the world’s population living in extreme poverty are in rural areas. Today, 8 out of 10 people who lack basic drinking water services live in rural areas, as do 7 out of 10 people who lack basic sanitation services. It will be important to intensify efforts to reach rural communities with health and other basic social services (including water and sanitation). These communities also urgently need increased economic investment in sustainable livelihoods and better access to digital technologies. Strengthen data and health information systems increasing the availability of timely, high-quality data that is disaggregated by sex, wealth, education, ethnicity, race, gender and place of residence is key to working out where inequities exist and addressing them. Health inequality monitoring should be an integral part of all national health information systems.” He said.
The DG noted that a recent WHO global assessment shows that only 51% of countries have included data disaggregation in their published national health statistics reports.
“The health status of these diverse groups is often masked when national averages are used. Moreover, it is often those who are made vulnerable, poor or discriminated against, who are the most likely to be missing from the data entirely. Now is the time to invest in health as a motor of development,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
World Health Day is marked every April 7th to draw global attention to health care challenges and health issues affecting people across the globe.