DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We hear a lot about the high cost of health care in the United States, but it's actually an even bigger problem overseas. According to estimates, every year, more than a hundred million people worldwide are pushed into extreme poverty in order to pay for health care. Many more don't even have that option. More than half of the world's population is forced to go without the most essential health services. NPR's Nurith Aizenman has more.
NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: These estimates are laid out in a joint report by the World Health Organization and the World Bank. And one of the officials behind them, Tim Evans of the World Bank, notes that, in most cases, the kind of care people are being priced out of is lifesaving but also really basic. For instance...
TIM EVANS: Nearly 20 million infants don't receive the immunizations they need to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
AIZENMAN: Those are common and deadly diseases that can be completely prevented at very low cost. Similarly...
EVANS: You know, more than a billion people live with uncontrolled high blood pressure, meaning they have no access to treatment.
AIZENMAN: A lot of governments don't contribute to the cost of care for poor people, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia. And often, there's also no viable system of health insurance to cover doctors' visits.
EVANS: This means that people either don't go when they need to or they go too late.
AIZENMAN: The consequences can be especially severe when there's a health emergency - someone's in a car accident or a pregnant woman needs a C-section. Sure, a hospital might take the person in, but a separate report also out this month finds that if the person can't pay, it's surprisingly common for hospitals to detain them until their families can cough up the money.
ROBERT YATES: It really is brutal.
AIZENMAN: Robert Yates of the London-based think tank Chatham House is the lead author of that report.
YATES: They're locked up in a sort of security area with security guards. And they are then often not given ongoing medical care that they need. And some of the most vulnerable people you can imagine are being kept prisoner basically.
AIZENMAN: Technically, this practice is illegal, which makes it hard to determine how widespread it is, but Yates estimates it happens to hundreds of thousands of people each year. And, again, the problem is particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, many poor people do pay a great sacrifice. Here again is the World Bank's Tim Evans.
EVANS: Well, what we found is that between a hundred and 200 million people every year are being pushed into poverty because of paying for health care.
AIZENMAN: Meaning that as a result of their health bills, their remaining income comes out to less than $3.10 a day. Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF BERNSTEIN'S "SPIRITED AWAY")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.