COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to have driven between 119-124 million people into extreme poverty last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has also called for urgent action to improve health of all people.
Within countries, illness and death from Covid-19 have been higher among groups who face discrimination, poverty, social exclusion, adverse daily living and working conditions - including humanitarian crises. 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. Under-5 mortality rates among children from the poorest households are double that of children from the richest households, according to the WHO. Life expectancy for people in low-income countries is 16 years lower than for people in high-income countries. For example, 9 out of 10 deaths globally from cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries. At least half of the world's population still lacks access to essential health services and 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, said WHO.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has thrived amid the inequalities in our societies and the gaps in our health systems," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
WHO said though safe and vaccines have been developed, the challenge now is to ensure that they are available to everyone who needs them. Key here will be additional support to COVAX, the vaccine pillar in the ACT-Accelerator, which hopes to have reached 100 countries and economies in the coming days. Commodities such as medical oxygen and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as reliable diagnostic tests and medicines are also vital. The ACT-Accelerator aims to establish testing and treatments for hundreds of millions of people in low and middle-income countries, but it still requires $22.1 billion funding.
The governments should spend an additional 1% of GDP on primary health care (PHC) and 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 recognising unpaid health care work by women, said WHO.
The health agency said 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.