During the 2020 administration, the world’s governments turned their efforts to strengthening their health systems in order to respond in a timely manner to the COVID-19 health emergency, which increased public expenditures for social security and health. This increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was unusual, reaching as much as 30% in some parts of the world. For this reason, international organizations suggest that governments pay special attention to access to health care for the most vulnerable population by increasing public expenditure.
According to the BBC, the ten countries with the highest public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP during the first months of the pandemic were: Japan with 21%, Luxembourg with 20%, Belgium with 19%, Slovenia with 17%, Austria with 15%, Iran, the United States, Qatar and Singapore with 13% and Sweden with 12%. Likewise, Cinco Días, Spain’s finance newspaper, indicates that in 2020 the European Union combined efforts to increase resources for social protection and health care, both representing 30% of GDP, with Spain being the country where the increase was most significant.
In this sense, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank reported that around 500 million people fell into extreme poverty because they had to pay their medical expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this way, the health crisis could halt two decades of progress towards greater health coverage, which is one of the goals that the entities are seeking, that is, to reduce the gap in health care access.
WHO also points out that this increase in inequality in health care access can be reduced with five urgent governmental measures, which is why it is suggested that governments: speed up equitable access to technologies against COVID-19; allocate more budget to primary health care; prioritize health and social protection; create safe, healthy and inclusive neighborhoods; and make efficient use of the resources available for health care by acquiring generic medicines with a correct cost-benefit relationship through transparent processes.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stated that, “there is no time to waste. All governments must immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure that every one of their citizens can access health care services without fear of financial consequences. This means strengthening public expenditure on health care and social support, and increasing their focus on primary health care systems that can provide essential care close to home.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stated that, “all governments must immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure that every one of their citizens can access health care services without fear of financial consequences.”
According to WHO and the World Bank, 500 million people have fallen into extreme poverty due to medical expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.