World Bank Launches Ambitious Plan to Expand Health Services
World Bank president Ajay Banga (centre) addresses an event to announce the new focus. He is flanked by Shakuntala Santhiran and WHO’s Dr Tedros.

The World Bank aims to support countries to deliver “quality, affordable health services” to 1.5 billion people by 2030, it announced during its ‘spring’ meeting in Washington this week.

It will expand its current focus from maternal and child health to include “coverage throughout a person’s lifetime, including non-communicable diseases”; hard-to-reach areas, including remote villages, cities, and countries; and working with governments to “cut unnecessary fees and other financial barriers to health care”, the Bank announced on Thursday.

“The Bank has been working in 100 countries for a while on a maternal and neonatal effort to improve the delivery of care to women and young babies,” said World Bank president Ajay Banga at an event to announce the Bank’s new focus. 

“We want to widen our aperture to include the diseases across adults, adolescents and old age.”

Banga said that the Bank intended to “really reach them…  actually touching the person with a medical appointment, either physical or telehealth, working on this expanded range of noncommunicable diseases, that’s the effort we’re going to try and put in by now in 2030”. 

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that around 4.5 billion people lacked adequate health coverage, while two billion face financial hardship trying to get health services, some “descending into poverty” as a result.

The task is complicated by what the Bank describes as “intertwined challenges, such as climate change, pandemics, conflicts, societal ageing, and a projected shortfall of 10 million healthcare workers by 2030”.

How will this be achieved?

“A lot of hard work, a lot of knowledge, a lot of financing, and a lot of partnerships,” is how the aim will be realised, said Banga.

“Financing is the obvious one. We’re a money bank and a knowledge bank. But even the money we can put to work will never be enough. We’re talking about putting to work 50% more money per year than what we used to spend on health care, pre- the pandemic,” he said.

But governments and the private sector would also have to invest in the effort.

Low-income countries spend an average of $21 per person, per year on health care. 

“That’s not going to get to health care workers in remote areas. So we have to give them share financing, concessional and grant financing,” said Banga.

Middle-income countries have more money available, but “may not have the right regulatory policies to create the multiplier that you want to create” – which could be done through private sector involvement.

“We can help with incentivizing them to create the right regulatory platforms and the right policies.”

This could involve private sector involvement in manufacturing essential medicines, or fortifying basic foods with vitamins.

Discussions with countries would involve identifying what they need to do to break through their barriers to deliver their share of the 1.5 billion – skills, infrastructure, medicines.

“We bring a diversification of knowledge. We understand water, we understand climate, we understand agriculture. We understand how those connect to health challenges.

“We can bring that knowledge as a partner, not just our financing, not just our ability to advise governments on regulatory policy, but our ability to help understand the intersections between these different causes of healthcare problems in the intertwined challenges that we are going through,” Banga concluded.

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