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Health should not be a privilege for the rich – Byanyima

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The UN agency devoted to ending AIDS as a public health threat is calling on top politicians and governments across the world to ensure the right to quality healthcare is upheld, and not just a privilege to be enjoyed by the wealthy.

UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima says that the right to health is eluding the poor and people trying to lift themselves out of poverty are being crushed by the unacceptably high costs of health care, with at least half the world’s population unable to access essential health services.

This is contained in a press release issued as the World Economic Forum gets fully underway in Davos, Switzerland. The independent international Forum (WEF) is an annual gathering, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders in reshaping the economic agenda.

Byanyima observed that nearly 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because they have to pay for health care, and more than 930 million people – around 12 percent of the world’s population – spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets on health care.

“The richest one percent benefit from cutting-edge science while the poor struggle to get even basic health care,” she added, citing that in many countries, people are denied health care or receive poor quality health care because of unaffordable user fees and the absence of publicly financed healthcare.

According to Byanyima, when health spending is cut or inadequate, it is the poor people and people on the margins of society, especially women and girls, who lose their right to health first, and they have to bear the burden of caring for their families.

She expressed dismay that delivering health care for all is a political choice that too many governments are not making and that tax avoidance on the part of the top one percent, and the wealth that they control, continues to deny resources to healthcare the world over.

“It is unacceptable that rich people and big companies are avoiding taxes and ordinary people are paying through their ill-health” said the UNAIDS chief. “Big companies must pay their fair share of taxes, protect employee rights, provide equal pay for equal work and provide safe working conditions for all, especially women.”

Debt is also posing a serious threat to Africa’s economy, health and development, resulting in big cuts in social spending to ensure debt repayment, the agency notes.

According to the International Monetary Fund, as of April 2019 half of low-income countries in Africa were either in debt distress or at a high risk of being so.

Another driver of ill health is the denial of human rights said UNAIDS. According to the World Bank, more than one billion women lack legal protection against domestic violence and close to 1.4 billion women lack legal protection against what they term, domestic economic violence.

“In the next decade, we can end AIDS as a public health threat and achieve universal health coverage”, said Ms. Byanyima, calling on governments everywhere to “tax fairly, provide publicly funded quality health care, guarantee human rights and achieve gender equality for all—it is possible.”

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