Pope Francis on universal health care

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

In his weekly prayer, after his recovery from colon surgery, Pope Francis spoke on one of the most critical issues of the world today. In summary, the pope advocated that health care should be free and accessible to all.

Even before this pandemic, in countries like the Philippines, the poor have complained about being turned away from hospitals because they could not make any down payment. No matter how many times hospitals have been warned to accept patients even without down payments, we hear stories of that tragedy happening again and again. During the pandemic, the stories have even become more frequent. There are stories of families watching a family member die outside a hospital because they are unable to raise the necessary down payment.

In his talk Pope Francis said: “In these days that I have been in the hospital, I saw once more how important it is to have a good health care system that is accessible to all, as it exists in Italy and in other countries. A health service that is free and guarantees good service accessible to all…This precious good should not be lost. It must be maintained and everyone should be committed to this. Because everyone needs it.”

In a previous speech on Oct. 7, Pope Francis amplified on his message of health care for all when he spoke to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He said: “Health care systems need to become more inclusive and accessible to the disadvantaged and to those living in low-income countries…If anyone should be given preference, let it be the neediest and most vulnerable among us. Similarly, when vaccines become available, equitable access to them must be ensured regardless of income, always starting with the least.”

Universal health care refers to a health care system in which all residents of a particular country are assured access to health care. The World Health Organization defines this concept further as a situation where citizens can access health services without incurring financial hardship. It describes universal health coverage as the “…single most powerful concept that public health has to offer since it unifies services and delivers them in a comprehensive and integrated way.” The goal of universal health care is to create a system of protection which provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the highest possible level of health. One of the most critical parts of Pope Francis’s comment is that he emphasized that health care systems should be more inclusive and inclusive to the poor in both rich countries and in low income countries.

Income inequality erodes democracy

The inequality in access to quality health care is due to income inequality. In a country like the Philippines, there are a select few who have access to the best medical treatment the world can offer – yes, the world. They have the means to fly to the countries which are the best providers of health care like the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. When they go to these foreign countries, they can afford the best and most expensive hospitals. They can afford treatments like stem cell treatment, which the poor may not even have heard of.

In contrast you have the poor, especially in rural areas, who resign themselves to watching their loved one die in their homes from lack of access and financial resources.

Consider the disparity in income between a family that can send its members to top hospitals in countries like the USA and Switzerland and families who cannot convince hospitals to accept their loved ones as patients because they cannot raise the necessary down payment.

This income inequality – especially its manifestations in such areas as health care, education, transportation and nutrition – is the reason why democracy’s rapid spread to non-democracies has been dwindling ever since the end of the Cold War.

The concern for the health in existing democracies has also grown because of the backsliding in existing democracies notably Brazil, India and Turkey. There are even signs this erosion is happening in new democracies like Poland and Hungary. There are also countries where there were increasing signs of democracy, but democratic forces were crushed and no assistance came from anywhere. These include countries like Myanmar and Hong Kong.

The pandemic gave democracies a chance to show how this system can address the daily needs of the poor. It was hoped that the elites would support permanent solutions, like universal health care, rather than band-aid solutions to the plight. Instead, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer during this pandemic.

For example, two billionaires spent hundreds of millions of dollars to finance a personal joy trip to the edge of space. In the meantime, poor countries in Africa and Asia lack adequate funding to buy vaccines for their poor. We see images of poor children scrounging for food in garbage dumps and trash cans all over the world, but these two billionaires spend millions just for a few minutes of personal gratification.

There are at least a few groups like Social Democrats and Democratic Socialists in parts of the world that are espousing democracy and are making serious attempts to address income inequality. The survival of democracy is now in the hands of these people.

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Writefest2021, our annual 6-session workshop, is ongoing with guests Manix Abrera and Russell Molina. Young Writers’ Hangout on July 24 with awardwinning author Weng Cahiles, 2-3 p.m.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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