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WHO Says Health Debts Push 100 Million a Year Into Poverty

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A mother with her young child

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization says the rising cost of health care is a struggle for people and governments around the world.

The problem is greatest in countries where people must often pay directly for services. A new report says these costs push one hundred million people into poverty each year.

Aging populations are one reason why health costs are rising. Also, more people are getting chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that require long-term treatment. And new treatments for health conditions are more costly than old ones.

This year's "World Health Report" offers guidelines to strengthen health financing systems and make services available to more people.

The report says about one billion people do not get the care they need because it costs too much or it is unavailable.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan says no one should have to risk financial ruin to take care of their health. David Evans agrees. He is the director of health systems financing for the WHO, which is part of the United Nations.

DAVID EVANS: "But what the report says, it’s not just not acceptable, but it’s not necessary. Something could be done and something can be done about it now."

The report says one thing governments can do is provide more money for health care. For example, ten years ago, African leaders agreed to spend fifteen percent of government funds on health. So far, only Liberia, Rwanda and Tanzania have met that goal.

The report says governments could also raise money more fairly and spend it more wisely. David Evans says several countries are doing this.

DAVID EVANS: "Gabon is a low-income country. It has introduced a tax on financial transactions and that is going to help. If Gabon can do something like that, other countries can do it.

"In terms of financial risk protection, Thailand has introduced health insurance for everyone. And that health insurance is tax-funded, particularly for the poor, so that what happens is the insurance now pays the cost that the people would have paid previously out of their own pockets."

The WHO says smarter spending could reduce health care costs between twenty and forty percent. The report identifies ten areas where better policies and practices could make health systems more efficient.

One area is in the purchase of medicines. The report says higher-priced drugs are often chosen even when lower-priced medicines of the same quality are available. Also, medicines can go to waste simply because the right storage is not available.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Shirley Griffith.


Contributing: Lisa Schlein and Caty Weaver