WHO raises alarm over vulnerable populations hard hit by global economic crisis
Sixtieth meeting of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 21–25 September 2009, Hong Kong (China)
HONG KONG (China), 22 September 2009—The World Health Organization (WHO) today called for urgent measures to cushion the ill effects on health caused by the global economic crisis, particularly on vulnerable and impoverished populations.
A meeting here of WHO's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific expressed concern that rising unemployment and shrinking disposable household income would result in more people being unable to afford medical treatment.
Vulnerable populations in the Region are expected to increase substantially as the impact of the financial crisis continues, the meeting was told. Current data indicate that the crisis will worsen the already serious poverty and social health protection issues in Asia and the Pacific, where more than 900 million people live on less than US$ 2 a day.
Estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicate that unemployment in the Asia Pacific region could rise by more than 23 million this year. But the ILO said this estimate could even be higher if it factors in people losing their job from informal employment arrangements. In China alone, about 20 million migrant workers lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis since the downturn began.
Governments have been under pressure to cut health budgets due to the financial crisis—further aggravating access, equity, quality and utilization of health services. To alleviate the plight of poor and vulnerable populations , the Regional Committee, WHO's governing body in the Region, endorsed a resolution to implement pro-health and pro-poor policies on primary health care principles.
Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, stressed the need to strengthen and expand safety nets for the poor and the vulnerable in countries hard hit by the crisis. He said WHO is committed to help countries in the current crisis by advocating the vital role of health in sustaining economic growth by monitoring, preventing and addressing health impacts of the crisis.
"Health is at the centre because unemployment, job insecurity, the lack of income, and the reduction in benefits and social protection all have effects on health," said Dr Shin, noting that the crisis requires increased commitment and focus on the social sector. "The issue for many governments is to turn the crisis into an opportunity to improve health systems to protect health, and thus, reinforce economic and social development in the current difficult environment."
Dr Shin called for strong partnership and international action in Asia and the Pacific, stressing that it is essential that donor and international communities maintain their commitments for aid and assistance during the crisis period.
Past experiences indicate that cuts in preventive health services during previous economic crises caused serious health problems. Many of these low-income developing countries still have not recovered from the ill effects on people's health.
The Regional Committee has requested WHO to support country-specific actions and health reforms, including monitoring, preventing and addressing the health impacts of the crisis, particularly among the poor and vulnerable populations.
The Regional Committee is meeting in Hong Kong (China) from 21 to 25 September to review WHO's work in the Region and to formulate future health directions.
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