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Times of India
23 November 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India

High Medical Bills Push 100m Into Poverty every year: WHO
Illness and medical bills are pushing over 100 million people into poverty every year. In some countries, 5% of the population is forced into poverty every year because they have to pay for health services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in countries like India, people who pay for their health care services suffer "catastrophic costs".

While millions suffer and die because they do not have money to pay for health care, others suffer because they end up paying through their noses.

Even countries where health services have traditionally been accessible and affordable are finding it harder to respond to people’s needs, says WHO’s annual World Health Report 2010.

The report estimated that between 20% and 40% of all health expenditures is wasted due to inefficiency. Overpaying is a form of waste. For instance, in some places medicine prices are up to 67 times more than the international average price, grossly affecting expenditures for other health services.

"No one in need of health care should risk financial ruin as a result of this," said Margaret Chan, direct of WHO.

The report cited a study by Harvard University in 2007, which showed that medical bills contributed to 62% of family bankruptcies.

"It’s just not acceptable," said David Evans, director of health systems financing at WHO. According to the report, millions of people miss out on health care because they simply cannot afford to pay for it.

In some countries, women, who are among the 20% affluent in the society, are up to 20 times more likely to have birth of their babies attended by skilled health worker than her poor counterparts. WHO suggests that a small change in the percentage of budget allocated to health would create a big increase in health resources.

If 49 of the world’s poorest countries allocated 15% of their government spending for health, this could almost double their health expenditures. Cumulatively, this would represent an additional $15 billion annually for health expenditures.

Also, more efficient tax collection generates more government money for health. The report claimed, new or reinforced sources of revenue could boost health finances.

For example, a 50% increase in tobacco tax would yield $1.42 billion in 22 lowincome countries — allowing health expenditures to increase by around 10%. India could raise $370 million annually by implementing a 0.005% levy on foreign exchange transactions.

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