Pandemic has pushed over half a billion people into extreme poverty, WHO and World Bank say

More than half a billion people globally were pushed into extreme poverty last year as they paid for health costs out of their own pockets during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

The pandemic disrupted health services globally and triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, making it even more difficult for people to pay for healthcare, a joint statement from the two organizations said on Sunday.

In his message, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that with the third year of the pandemic creeping up on us, “we must urgently strengthen our health systems to ensure they are equitable, resilient and capable of meeting everyone`s needs, including for their mental health.”

He added that “the shockwaves of this health emergency are hitting hardest those countries that lack health systems capable of providing quality, affordable care for all.”

Guterres said that if the world is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030, there needs to be a greater commitment from governments to invest in and scale up proven solutions. “This means making more and smarter investments in the foundations of health systems, with an emphasis on primary health care, essential services and marginalized populations”, said Guterres.

The best insurance for resilient economies and communities, is strengthening health systems before crises emerge. “The unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the past year has been a global moral failure. We must learn from this experience. The pandemic will not end for any country until it ends for every country”, said the UN chief.

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