Friday, October 19, 2018 | ePaper

Make healthcare affordable for all

  • Print
Sania Nishtar  :
Half of the planet cannot access essential health services. For many people, paying to see a doctor, obtaining medications, seeking family-planning advice, or even getting immunized against common illnesses is a choice between staying healthy and slipping into poverty. And, more than ever, the health-care options that poor people do have are being degraded by a familiar foe.
In many low- and middle-income countries, corruption, inadequate spending, and wasted resources pose enduring challenges for health-care systems. Growing up in Pakistan, I saw people forced to go to extremes to secure health care. For example, families might be forced to sell off cattle and other valuables to pay exorbitant medical bills.
What is shocking is that the scourge of health-related poverty continues to claim victims today. Indeed, in some countries, people falling into poverty due to the high cost of health care is an everyday reality.
On a recent trip to Africa, I heard a harrowing story of a hospital where women and their newborns are routinely held hostage - often for months - until families can find the money to settle their bills. According to researchers at the University of California, San Diego, corruption, waste, and unethical billing cost patients and health systems billions of dollars annually. In the United States, as much as 10% of public-sector spending on health care is lost to fraudulent billing, and tens of millions face significant economic barriers to health care.
Clearly, improving health outcomes requires both increased government spending and an end to shady practices that siphon crucial resources from the health system.
But how? Around the world, corruption and collusion are institutionalized in many health-care systems. Of the $6.5 trillion spent annually on healthcare, an estimated $455 billion is lost, misused, or stolen. Simply put, health costs are bankrupting some of the poorest people in the world, because many of the richest are lining their pockets.
There is growing consensus that affordable, quality health care is a basic human right. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals include universal health coverage as a target. And it is not only rich countries that have embraced this goal: from Thailand to Costa Rica to Rwanda, countries with mixed health systems and limited resources have dedicated funds and political capital to making universal health care a reality.
Steps are being taken to help these countries succeed. Last year, Japan pledged $2.9 billion to help developing countries achieve universal health coverage. And the World Bank has indicated that a country's ability to borrow from it could eventually be tied to investments in human capital, including health spending.
But such gestures, however laudable - and overdue - will not be enough to remove the barriers to quality health services. Until corruption, theft, and wasteful and inefficient spending are addressed more vigorously, universal health coverage will remain aspirational.
Fortunately, governments are increasingly committed to solving the corruption crisis. Tax evasion and fraud - both common crimes - are drawing closer scrutiny from law enforcement agencies. Tax evasion doesn't just enable money laundering; it also robs the public sector of important resources. This is one reason why the UN has made reducing illicit financial flows a key component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
With broad agreement on the need to combat corruption in the health sector, the harder challenge will be developing workable remedies. National treasuries, finance ministries, and anti-corruption agencies need to strengthen their efforts to cooperate on prevention, detection, and enforcement. Improving transparency in financial systems could also help curb corruption, while civil-society groups, journalists, and patients should push for greater accountability from governments and medical providers.
In the future, new technologies like data mining, artificial intelligence, and blockchain could offer new ways to detect wrongdoing in the health sector; these and other tools should be investigated fully. Expanding health-care access and protecting the sector's finances are dual challenges that the international community must address together. There is an urgent need to act without delay. Rates of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are increasing almost exponentially, and lack of access to quality care will add to many countries' governance challenges. Development strategists understand that poor health is a harbinger of poverty and a barrier to eliminating it. Today, some 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health, often going into debt to fund the treatment they need. The fact that so many people cannot afford to visit a doctor is truly shameful. The world needs universal health coverage; but to achieve it, the world's health sector must undergo treatment of its own. -Project Syndicate
(Sania Nishtar is a co-chair of the WHO's independent High-level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases).

More News For this Category

How much screen time should kids be allowed each day?

How much screen time should kids be allowed each day?

Randy Kulman Ph.D :One of the most common complaints I hear from parents in my practice is that their kids spend too much time staring at screens. While this

Launch of Smiling Heart Clinic at United Hospital

Launch of Smiling Heart Clinic at United Hospital

Life Desk :"I am 76 and I have never witnessed in my life that a patient is called from hospital to enquire whether he is doing okay", this is

Are screens endangering your love life?

Are screens endangering your love life?

Susan Heitler Ph.D. :There's no doubt about it.  Screens are here to stay.  All of us have married the internet "for better or for worse, in sickness and in

Save the ecosystem

Save the ecosystem

Wahseka Lanee :Ecosystem consists of all living and nonliving things that depend on each other to survive people are destroying different ecosystem by different way and threats. Ecosystem is

An inspirational story of love

An inspirational story of love

Linda and Charlie Bloom :Despite his age of 79, Jose was possessed of the spirit, curiosity, sense of humor, and playfulness of a child. That would be enough to make

BD preparing for world skills competition 2019 in Russia

BD preparing for world skills competition 2019 in Russia

Life News :Bangladesh is going to participate at World Skills Competition 2109 at Kazan in Russia aiming at branding the country at the global forum as a skilled nation.As part

World Breast Cancer Awareness Month

World Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Life News :Every year 22,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Bangladesh. Among them, 70 percent of the women die without any medical treatment. Breast cancer is the second

Is social media making you lonely?

Is social media making you lonely?

Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC :We are plagued by a loneliness epidemic.  In the last fifty years, regardless of geographic location, gender, race, or ethnicity, rates of loneliness have doubled in

Small exercise breaks during work recharges brain

Small exercise breaks during work recharges brain

Life Desk :Getting a mental blockage while at work is a usual occurrence. During the long working hours, if the thinking part of your body is not given a

United Hospital observes World Heart Day

United Hospital observes World Heart Day

Life Desk :The theme of World Heart Day for the year 2018 is "My heart, Your heart". Like every year, United Hospital observed World Heart Day this year in