On health, India must protect the poorest

Updated on Dec 14, 2021 07:53 PM IST

India must prioritise health services for its vulnerable population. Indians have one of the world’s highest out-of-pocket health expenditures

Covid-19 has likely stalled two decades of progress towards universal health coverage and pushed half a billion people into extreme poverty (Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
Covid-19 has likely stalled two decades of progress towards universal health coverage and pushed half a billion people into extreme poverty (Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times)
ByHT Editorial

Covid-19 has raised global poverty. It has likely stalled two decades of progress towards universal health coverage and pushed half a billion people into extreme poverty, reports released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank said this week. United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said that the “shockwaves of this health emergency are hitting hardest those countries that lack health systems capable of providing quality, affordable care for all.” Even public health-service coverage even in advanced economies have been stretched to their limits.

The pandemic has impacted health care in distinct ways. It has shrunk the delivery of affordable public health services in chronic diseases by shifting resources away from them. This has pushed up health care costs in the private sector because of a surge in demand. In the first two decades of this century, the reports note, governments around the world made progress on service coverage. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, “68% of the world’s population was covered by essential health services”, which has been cut by half since. These include services in the areas of pre-and post-natal care; reproductive health; treatment for HIV, TB and malaria; immunisation services; and non-communicable diseases.

In this context, India must prioritise health services for its vulnerable population. Indians have one of the world’s highest out-of-pocket health expenditures, according to the Economic Survey 2021. Increasing public health expenditure from 1% to 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product can decrease out-of-pocket health spending by 65%, the survey stated. India would do well to ramp up public health spending to protect the poorest.

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