WHO lauds more healthcare spending

KUALA LUMPUR: The World Health Organisation (WHO) welcomes the new government’s intent to increase spending on healthcare as this is important for Malaysians who are now generally living longer.

WHO Western Pacific Region Rep Office for Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore Dr Lo Ying-ru Jacqueline congratulated the new Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and said that WHO was “heartened” to learn of the minister’s intent in achieving healthcare spending of 6% to 7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Globally we have seen how higher government spending generally provides adequate public infrastructure and health service delivery at subsidised cost.

“This in turn could translate into less people turning to health services in the private sector. This is particularly important as Malaysians are living longer today than they were before and with longer life expectancies comes the need for a boost in health care services,” she told The Star.

On Tuesday, Dr Dzulkefly said that the ministry will target healthcare spending of 6% to 7% of the GDP, an increase from the current 4.4%.

Currently, Dr Lo said that about 70% of deaths in the economically productive group were those aged between 15 and 64, a result of non-communicable diseases.

As such, it was hoped that the boost in funding will better equip the country to tackle diabetes, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, high-blood pressure and high cholesterol so that Malaysians can live longer lives, free of disease and disabilities, she said.

While Malaysia has been acknowledged globally for a high performing health system, Dr Lo said that WHO hoped the minister could also consider prioritising areas such as fiscal measures to control tobacco and sugar consumption which targets young people, expanding trained health workers to address disability and mental health issues and come up with an analysis on population groups left behind so that it closes gaps in universal health coverage.

Dr Lo said that WHO has no specific numerical threshold for healthcare spending based on GDP.

“It is more important what dollars are spent for,” she said.

For comparison, Australia spends 9.4% of the GDP for health, Japan 10.2%, South Korea 7.2%, and Singapore 4.9%.

In addressing the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, and against the backdrop of a new Malaysian government, Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah reminded all member countries to serve people and humanity and embrace health coverage for all.

Quoting from the director-general of WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus’ speech last year, Dr Noor Hisham said Dr Tedros aptly put it that it was about serving people.

“This fundamental definition has embraced the sheer essence of what universal health coverage simply is. It is about ensuring all people can get quality health services, where and when they need them, without suffering financial hardship,” he said when delivering Malaysia’s country statement of the 71st WHA with the theme Health for all – commit to Universal Health Coverage on Tuesday.

Dr Noor Hisham also said this in the context of a new Government in charge.

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