World only halfway to meeting global target for essential health services by 2025, WHO chief says

2B people face hardship due to out-of-pocket health spending, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells World Health Assembly

Peter Kenny  | 27.05.2024 - Update : 29.05.2024
World only halfway to meeting global target for essential health services by 2025, WHO chief says


Despite huge strides in coverage, the World Health Organization's (WHO) chief said on Monday that only 585 million more people will be covered by essential health services without catastrophic health spending by 2025, putting the UN’s international public health organization only slightly more than halfway toward its goal of 1 billion. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in the highlights of his annual report that 2 billion people face financial hardship due to out-of-pocket health spending.

“Although 30% of countries have made progress since 2000 on both service coverage and financial protection, at the global level, we’re going backwards on financial protection,” Tedros stated in his report at the WHA, which is normally held annually.

Half of the world's population is not fully covered by essential health services as in 2023, the WHO responded to 65 global emergencies, he said, describing it as a year of many challenges, but also many accomplishments.

These included earthquakes in Türkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as conflict and insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gaza, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, and Ukraine.

It also responded to outbreaks of cholera, dengue, diphtheria, hepatitis E, Marburg, measles, mpox and others.

Tedros also emphasized the WHO's role in providing health services in conflict zones such as Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine, calling for an immediate cease-fire in all three war-torn regions.

At the second High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Care at the UN General Assembly, countries made more than 50 commitments to progressively expand access to essential health services, and improve financial protection.

“This is the only one of the three targets that we estimate will be met, with 1.5 billion people expected to be enjoying better health and well-being by 2025,” he said.  

Climate-change greatest threat  

“Perhaps the greatest threat to health of our time comes from our changing climate,” noted Tedros.

He said that, for the first time, an entire day of the program was dedicated to health at the COP28 climate conference in the UAE last year.

The WHO chief said 149 countries signed the COP28 declaration on climate change and health, and donors pledged more than $1 billion to address the health impacts of climate change.

WHO and the global health community also helped ensure that the final agreement included a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels.

“Last year, we supported the electrification of health facilities with solar energy in Somalia, and with UNICEF and Gavi, we started supporting other countries including Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Pakistan and Yemen,” he said.

He also explained that tobacco use is declining in 150 countries, and there are now 19 million fewer smokers globally than there were two years ago.

More than 90 countries increased their tobacco excise tax between 2020 and 2022.

“In December, WHO published a call to action to prevent the uptake of e-cigarettes, along with a technical note on the evidence of the harm they do,” said the world health chief.

Turning to conflict areas, Tedros said health professionals from around the world have supported the deployment of 18 teams in Gaza.

Those professionals have provided almost 400 thousand consultations, performed more than 18,000 surgeries, and added more than 500 additional hospital beds.    

 ‘In Gaza before conflict’ 

“WHO was in Gaza before the conflict began and will stay to support the health system until this conflict ends, and to help rebuild it afterwards,” he said.

In Sudan, he said, more than a year of fighting has left almost 15 million people in need of health assistance and more than three-quarters of hospitals, which is almost 90% of primary care facilities, are not functioning.

“In Ukraine, we continue to support the health system, which has remained resilient but faces continued challenges. An estimated 7.8 million people will require health assistance in 2024,” said the WHO chief.

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