WHO releases two major reports

Copenhagen, 22 November 2010

WHO headquarters has just released two major global reports: the 2010 world health report, launched in Berlin on 22 November at a ministerial conference on health financing hosted by the Government of Germany; and a new report on health inequities in urban settings, released in Kobe, Japan last week.

2010 world health report

“The world health report – Health systems financing: the path to universal coverage” gives practical guidance for governments around the world. It argues that all countries, rich and poor, can adjust their health financing mechanisms to enable more people to get the health care they need. It also encourages the donor community to support low- and middle-income countries’ efforts to carry out the necessary reforms.

“No one in need of health care should have to risk financial ruin as a result,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The report sets out a stepwise approach. We encourage every country to act on this and do at least one thing to improve health financing and increase health coverage over the coming year.”

The report provides options to improve health financing in three main areas:

  1. raising more funds for health by diversifying funding sources;
  2. providing adequate financial protection against ill health; and
  3. improving efficiency and equity in the way funds are used.

It identifies 10 causes of inefficiency in health systems around the world, which hinder the appropriate use of available resources. For example, in 17 middle-income countries, switching from originator brands of medicine to the lowest-priced generic equivalents could reduce costs to patients by an average of 60%. Other causes of inefficiency include inappropriate hospital admissions and length of hospital stays, and uneconomical hospital facilities.

Introducing concepts such as strategic purchasing, instead of passive payment for health services, can boost efficiency. Strategic purchasing makes buying decisions based on an in-depth analysis of the population’s health needs and evidence on cost-effective service delivery.

The international community can play a key role in helping governments make the necessary adjustments in health financing. Today, 31 countries around the world spend less than US$ 35 per person per year on health. If all donors could implement their pledge to allocate 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) to official development assistance, 3 million additional lives could be saved in lower-income countries by 2015.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe, particularly through its Barcelona office, supports governments in developing and making reforms in health financing, and monitoring their progress. Activities include direct technical assistance to countries through policy dialogues and analytical work, training courses on health financing and facilitation of country-to-country links to exchange evidence and experience.

Hidden cities: a report on health inequities

WHO published “Hidden cities: unmasking and overcoming health inequities in urban settings” with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). The report was launched at last week’s Global Forum on Urbanization and Health, in Kobe, Japan, as part of WHO’s 2010 World Health Day campaign.

The report gives a comprehensive assessment of the social, economic and physical roots of health inequities in cities, and demonstrates that disaggregated data can help reveal health-related imbalances. Among other sources, the report draws on the rich experience of the WHO Regional Office for Europe in working with local governments on health and health equity in local policies in Healthy Cities networks.

While urban residents tend to have greater access to social and health services than their rural counterparts, enormous health disparities exist between people living in the same city. The rapid urbanization in high- and middle-income countries not only causes concerns about environmental risks and inadequate health infrastructures but also leads to a concentration of older populations in cities. Health policies need to respond to this demographic change to ensure urban health equity for all age groups.

“Urban health inequities are often overlooked owing to the way health information is typically collected and analysed. We need to be aware that, while urbanization has brought prosperity and health to countries and their citizens, it has also led to unfair differences in the health status of people living in cities,” says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Urban health inequities can only be revealed when health-related information is disaggregated according to defining characteristics of city dwellers, such as their socioeconomic status or place of residence.

WHO and UN-HABITAT have developed tools to facilitate the creation of an evidence base. WHO’s urban health equity assessment and response tool (Urban HEART) promotes the use of available data, which are disaggregated by socioeconomic group and geographical area. Its response component enables users to determine the policies and interventions that will best support the reduction of particular health inequities. UN-HABITAT’s UrbanInfo helps users store, present and analyse urban indicators through a wide range of presentation tools.