World Bank’s Kim Says Health Coverage Can End Poverty

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said universal health insurance coverage in all countries can help achieve a goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

“Every country in the world can improve the performance of its health system in the three dimensions of universal coverage: access, quality and affordability,” Kim said in a speech in Geneva at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the World Health Organization’s top decision-making group. “In all cases, countries need to tie their plans to tough, relevant metrics. All of us together must prevent ‘universal coverage’ from ending up as a toothless slogan.”

Kim, a physician by training who took over the institution in July, set a target last month to cut the proportion of people in extreme poverty -- defined as living on less than $1.25 a day -- to less than 3 percent by 2030 from 21 percent in 2010.

Health spending forces about 100 million people into extreme poverty every year and inflicts severe financial hardship on another 150 million, Kim said today. He gave Turkey and Thailand as examples of countries that have expanded health insurance coverage, reducing infant mortality rates and the numbers of people suffering catastrophic health costs.

Health Priorities

Countries should prioritize preventive health measures such as vaccines to prevent higher treatment costs in future, and public health officials could learn from for-profit companies about providing value-for-money health care, Kim said.

“We have to bring an intensity of focus on delivery as if we were subject to market forces,” he said in an interview. “Just because we’re not subject to market forces is not an excuse not to be as rigorous and intense about figuring out how to deliver as people are in the private sector.”

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution last year on affordable universal health care, urging countries to develop financing systems that “avoid significant direct payments at the point of delivery.” Eliminating point-of-service fees will be critical to improving access to health care for the world’s poor, Kim said today.

“Anyone who has provided health care to poor people knows that even tiny out-of-pocket charges can drastically reduce their use of needed services,” he said. “This is both unjust and unnecessary.”

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