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A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia.
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Health

Health Care Costs Are Forcing 100 Million People to Choose Between Food & Medicine

From Asia to the North America, tens of millions of poor families around the world face the excruciating choice between buying medication or food.

And the high cost of health care has put medicine out of reach for many.

That’s according to a report released Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, which notes that about half the world’s population — almost 4 billion people — lack access to essential health care.

Health care expenses also push nearly 100 million people into extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as less than $1.90 per day, and force 800 million people to spend 10% of their income on health care, according to the report.

Take Action: Let’s Get Global Health Security on the G7 Agenda

The cost of medications, vaccines and health care supplies affect people of all ages, including infants

"Nearly 20 million infants don't receive the immunizations they need to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis," WHO senior director Tim Evans told National Public Radio . "These are very common childhood infections that can be completely prevented through low-cost vaccination."

In addition to the 100 million people mired in extreme poverty because of health expenses, another 122 million people live in “moderate poverty” —defined as  $3.10 a day — due to health care costs.

Global Citizen campaigns on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including Number 3, Good Health and Well-Being. You can take action on this issue here.

Even as the world strives toward universal health coverage by 2030, which would alleviate the financial burden on poor families, several countries are lagging behind.

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The problem of extreme poverty related to health care is worst in Asia, where the majority of people who spend at least 25% of their income on health spending live. The report defines expenses above 25% of a family’s income as “catastrophic spending.”

In the US, which does not have universal health coverage, millions face the financial burden of medical spending in cities and rural areas.

“People have told me they sometimes have to choose between buying medication and eating," Catherine Flowers, founder of Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, told NPR.

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To the report’s authors, ensuring all individuals receive affordable medical treatment is a moral issue and a key factor in whether the world can meet the SDGs by 2030.

“Universal healthcare coverage is not just about better health,” Evans told the Guardian. “The reality is that as long as millions of people are being impoverished by health expenses, we will not reach our collective sustainable development goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.”