Diseases and disasters loom

Dear Editor,
Around the globe, the right to health of millions is increasingly coming under threat. Diseases and disasters loom large as causes of death and disability.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Council on the Economics of Health for All revealed that at least 140 countries recognize health as a human right in their constitution. Yet, many citizens are left to fend for themselves regarding access to health services. This underpins the fact that at least 4.5 billion people more than half of the world’s population were not fully covered by essential health services in 2021. World Health Day (WHD) is celebrated on April7 yearly to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948.
The observance of World Health Day is seen as an opportunity by the organization to drive worldwide attention to a subject of major importance for global health each year. This year’s theme for World Health Day 2024 is ‘My health, my right’. This year’s theme was chosen to champion the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.
The observance of World Health Day cannot be done in isolation from highlighting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal #3 which addresses good health and well-being. According to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic and other ongoing crises are hindering progress in achieving SDG3, exacerbating existing health inequalities and threatening progress towards universal health coverage. As a result, 68 million children are known to be un- or under-vaccinated as of 2022 from TB and malaria. The UN adds that the pandemic has also highlighted the need for stronger global health security systems to prevent and respond to future pandemics.
A recent report has revealed that the Caribbean needs to re-calibrate its healthcare priorities by securing more funding and learning how to spend resources better. The report is published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank and is titled Health at a Glance: Latin America and the Caribbean 2020.
It says that total health expenditure across the Caribbean countries is on average 6.6% of their gross domestic product (GDP). This is lower compared to the 8.8% of other OECD countries. Spending varied from 1.1% in Venezuela to up to 11.7% in Cuba and 9.2% in Uruguay in 2017. The report also shows that health systems in the region heavily rely on out-of-pocket expenditures or supplemental private insurance from households, with an average of 54.3% of total health spending for government spending and compulsory health insurance. Countries that have the highest private spending are Honduras, Haiti and Guatemala. Cuba and Costa Rica have the lowest.
Additionally, the Inter-American Development Bank states that Latin American and Caribbean countries will face significant increases in future health expenditures. A variety of factors are responsible – population growth and aging, the epidemiological transition to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and economic growth and technology, among others. Increasing health expenditures are particularly concerning to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) given growing levels of debt, insufficient fiscal revenues, and high out-of-pocket payments. The projected average annual per capita CHE growth rate from 2018-2050 is slightly higher in Latin American countries (3.2%) than in the Caribbean (2.4%). The share of health expenditure in GDP is projected to increase by 2030 in all LAC countries except for Guyana.
The Way Forward
Healthcare systems globally are reservoirs of inequality. In most societies, the economically disadvantaged and vulnerable languish daily trying to access healthcare. Hours of productivity are lost on any given day due to the lengthy wait period necessary to access health care. Sadly, in many instances, unless you are connected to a high-ranking official it is very likely that you will suffer in pain while waiting for an appointment day. Do you think we can do better for our people? Governments need to invest more in healthcare systems.
The training and retention of health care workers especially in the Global South will always be problematic as the Global North will have the advantage of attracting these workers by offering better salaries and conditions of work. Successive governments over the years have spoken about universal health insurance sadly; nothing has been done to bring this into reality.
With longevity comes the possibility of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and cancers. Globally, obesity is a growing problem as more of our population is overweight. The time to revisit Physical Education is now. There is a school of thought that favours physical education for all grades. Without a doubt being overweight is a root cause for ill-health. On this World Health Day governments are charged to examine innovative ways to ensure that universal health care becomes a reality.

Wayne Campbell