World Bank sets goal for access to health care

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TOKYO (AP) - Ensuring greater access to affordable health care is a crucial factor in alleviating poverty and promoting economic growth, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Friday in announcing ambitious targets for preventing and treating chronic illnesses in developing countries.

About 100 million people are impoverished by medical expenses each year. The World Bank and World Health Organization aim by 2020 to reduce that figure by half and by 2030 to eliminate it altogether.

The consensus among many familiar with development and poverty alleviation is that providing universal health coverage is vital for economic development, said officials attending a conference in Tokyo.

Japan, which extended such coverage to its entire population in 1961, benefited enormously from that investment, as strong public health supported the expansion of a highly productive middle class, Kim said.

"The fact is that Japan committed to universal health coverage when its per capita income was not at the highest levels and many people thought it could not afford it," Kim said.

The World Bank and WHO also intend to double access to affordable basic services such as vaccinations and deliveries to 80 percent of the poor in developing countries by 2020. By 2030 that number should also be able to get treatment for injuries and for such chronic problems as high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illness.

Improved public health also requires investments in education, welfare, transport, water and sanitation.

"Universal health coverage is financially feasible and makes good economic sense," said WHO director general Margaret Chan. "It is the ultimate expression of fairness. People are not left behind to die," she said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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