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The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic indicated more than ever the need to strengthen national health systems’ preparedness and capacities, and to ensure continuity of essential health services, particularly for women, children, and adolescents.

Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is at the core of these efforts. The World Bank Group (WBG) is supporting countries’ efforts towards this goal and to provide quality, affordable health services to everyone —regardless of their ability to pay — by strengthening primary health care systems and reducing the financial risks associated with ill health and increasing equity.

The latest World Bank/World Health Organization research revealed an alarming stagnation in the progress towards providing people everywhere with quality, affordable, and accessible healthcare. More than half of the world’s population is still not covered by essential health services and 2 billion people face severe financial hardship when paying out-of-pocket for the services and products they needed.

Ensuring that every woman and child has access to health care is also fundamental to ending poverty, building robust economies, and achieving UHC. The Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), a multi-stakeholder partnership hosted at the World Bank has been supporting countries with the world’s highest maternal and child mortality burden and financial needs. Since the GFF was founded in 2015, partner countries have made significant progress to improve maternal and child health.

COVID-19 has also brought social isolation, financial hardship, and interrupted health care services – which are negatively impacting the mental well-being of people.

Recent estimates indicate that, in 2020, governments worldwide spent on average just over 2% of their health budgets on mental health and many low-income countries reported having fewer than 1 mental health worker per 100 000 people. The World Bank is supporting efforts to put mental health at the center of global health, in addition to as an integral element of human capital accumulation.

The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes is growing. NCDs are the cause of 70 percent of deaths globally, with most of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Despite advances in reducing communicable diseases, rates remain high in many parts of the world for malnutrition, unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services, and maternal mortality.

Supporting strong resilient health systems

Health systems in many countries are confronting challenges caused by the pandemic, climate change, aging populations, and a growing burden of lifestyle diseases.

More than ever, pandemic preparedness and disease surveillance anchored in strong and resilient health systems that reach everyone—especially the most vulnerable—are crucial to ensure better protection from major disease outbreaks.

A recent World Bank report charts an agenda toward reimagined, fit-for-purpose primary health care. It reflects a renewed understanding of global and local vulnerabilities and opportunities in the post-COVID world. Another report Change Cannot Wait: Building Resilient Health Systems in the Shadow of COVID-19 builds on this analysis and presents a new framework for making health systems resilient and where countries and partners can best target investments to improve health outcomes.

Last Updated: Oct 04, 2023

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