Wed, 29 Nov 2023

Governments Should Step Up on Public Health Care Spending

Human Rights Watch
20 Sep 2023, 23:25 GMT+10

On Thursday, a high-level meeting of government officials will take place during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss global progress towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030. Governments serious about meeting this target, one of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, should begin by putting their money where their mouth is.

UHC is a concept grounded in the right to health, recognizing that all people should have access to the quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.

There is no "magic number" for health care spending that meets countries' right to health obligations. The United States spends more on health care than any other country, but its largely market-based healthcare system produces immense disparities of access and quality

Numerous studies, including from the World Health Organization (WHO), have estimated that providing UHC will generally require governments to spend the equivalent of at least 5 to 7.5 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care.

However, when Human Rights Watch analyzed WHO healthcare expenditure data, we found that 132 governments spent less than 5% of their GDP on health care on average between 2019 and 2021, calling into question their commitment to fulfilling right to health obligations.

In that same period, households in 47 countries collectively paid more out-of-pocket for health care than what their governments spent on it. In Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, households' out-of-pocket health care costs were more than 4.7-times what the government spent on health care. In India, the world's fifth-largest economy, household out-of-pocket costs were about 50 percent higher than government spending, accounting for more than half of all health care costs.

Reliance on out-of-pocket expenses can increase inequalities, as not everyone will be able to cover these costs, widening gaps in quality of life and life expectancy instead of ensuring the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of health care.

As governments meet to discuss the future of UHC, they should commit to reducing the burden on households to finance health care by ensuring high-quality, public health care services for all, aligned with the right to health.

Bar chart showing health care spending per country; data is available as a table following this image

Source: Human Rights Watch

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