Governments not spending enough on health: WHO

News release

MANILA, 3 March 2010—The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on governments across the Asia Pacific region to spend more on health in order to cut out-of-pocket health-care costs for the poor and vulnerable.

Outlining a new strategy designed to help reduce payments for medical care, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, stressed that poverty and poor health are linked together in a downward spiral.

"When the poor fall sick, the cost of treatment – if they can afford it at all – often tips them further into hardship," said Dr Shin. "And when that happens, they are even more susceptible to ill-health. And the result of that is greater poverty."

Dr Shin said this was an especially acute problem in the Asia Pacific region, where out-of-pocket health-care costs are among the highest in the world. In some countries in the region, more than 60% of money spent on health care comes from the patient's pocket. By contrast, in Germany an average of just 13% of all medical expenses are borne by the patient, with the rest covered by social health insurance or by the Government.

WHO's new approach, titled "Health Financing Strategy for the Asia Pacific Region (2010-2015)", has universal coverage as an ultimate goal, so that everyone can afford medical help and have access to appropriate services at an affordable cost.

The strategy provides four targets to help countries monitor and evaluate progress in attaining universal coverage:

  • Out-of-pocket spending should not exceed 30%-40% of total health expenditures.
  • Total health expenditure per country should be at least 4%-5% of gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Over 90% of the population should be covered by some form of prepayment.
  • Extensive safety-net provisions should be put in place for especially vulnerable sectors of the population.

"The targets in the strategy are useful as a guide for achieving universal coverage, but countries will need to decide what they can realistically do," said Dr Shin. "Some countries may be able to earmark 5% of GDP for health, while others will need to examine their own finances and see what is possible."

National health accounts data show that government spending on health in most developing countries in the Asia Pacific region is below 5% of GDP, and in some cases less than 2%.

"The level of government spending on health is too low in many countries,” said Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO's Director for Health Sector Development in the Western Pacific Region. “These governments need to develop strategies to increase investment and public spending on health, and also to be more efficient in the way they use funds allocated for health."

For more information, please contact Peter Cordingley, WHO spokesman for the Western Pacific Region, on cell phone +63 918 963 0224, office +63 2 528 9992, e-mail