‘Higher spending on health, more jabs key to Covid’s end’


ENDING the pandemic will require all countries working together to speed up vaccinations and increase health spending, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).

In a Unescap blog, Unescap Social Development Division Director Srinivas Tata said vaccine hesitancy is slowing vaccination rates worldwide. He said this contributed to the “fourth wave” in many European countries.

Apart from this, health spending by many governments remains well below 5 percent of GDP, leaving millions of people relying on out-of-pocket payments to finance their health needs.

“No one is safe unless everyone is safe, and we cannot afford to leave any one behind in our response to the pandemic,” Tata said.

Inequality in vaccine supply also remains a challenge. Tata said as of November 2021, 100 percent of high-income countries (HIC) and 78 percent of upper middle income countries (UMICs) are on track to vaccinate 40 percent of their populations by the end of 2021.

These figures are significantly lower compared to only 4 percent of low-income countries (LICs) and 33 percent of lower middle income countries (LMICs).

Tata noted that about 92 percent of HICs have procured enough vaccines to inoculate 70 percent of their populations by mid-2022, compared to only 7 percent of LICs.

“For this vast gap to be closed, the COVAX facility must receive vaccines on a priority basis, without precluding bilateral arrangements between LICs and manufacturers,” Tata said.

Efforts to address these problems, Tata said, requires governments to focus on three pillars—vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics—in the medium  to long term.

He added that regional cooperation also plays an important role in pooling resources for vaccine research and manufacturing. These efforts should also be complemented by the harmonizing of drug approval as well as sharing of technology and information.

Ending the pandemic is imperative. Based on a recent study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) Senior Research Fellow Valerie Gilbert T. Ulep, the country’s long-run productivity losses from direct and indirect health impacts of the pandemic reached P2.3 trillion.

Ulep said more than half of this cost is attributed to productivity losses linked to non-Covid morbidities due to lack of health care.

Based on Ulep’s computation, P1.7 trillion of these losses can be attributed to non-Covid morbidities; and P398 billion to non-Covid deaths due to the lack of health-care services.

He added that only P160 billion are attributed directly to Covid-related premature deaths and morbidities, including long-Covid. This is composed of P94 billion for Covid premature deaths and P66 billion for Covid-morbidity, including long-Covid.

Data obtained by Ulep from the Department of Health (DOH) showed the number of tuberculosis tests contracted 49 percent to 556,773 in 2020 from 1.08 million in 2019. The target for testing is 2.45 million.

He added that the number of those diagnosed and treated, whether new infections or relapse, declined 37 percent to 256,541 in 2020 from 409,167 in 2019. The target for diagnosis is 442,600. 

In terms of HIV, Ulep said the number of HIV tests done in 2020 only reached 480,285, or a decline of 61 percent from the 1.22 million done in 2019.

Further, the number of newly diagnosed cases declined 37 percent to 8,058 in 2020 from 12,778 in 2019 while newly enrolled clients in ART also contracted 28 percent to 8,429 in 2020 from 11,654 in 2019.

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