Half the world’s population doesn’t have access to health care. Here’s how to help on World Health Day and every day.
April 7 is World Health Day, and this year’s cause is access to health care for everyone. According to statistics gathered by the World Health Organization, half the world’s population currently doesn’t have access to health care — and a staggering 100 million people have been forced into poverty due to health care costs.
Lack of access to health care affects the most vulnerable populations, both in the U.S. and abroad. I spoke to four medical experts about their biggest areas of concern — and what we can do to help on World Health Day and every other day of the year.
Lack of Access to Health Care Is a Multilayered Issue
When we hear the phrase “lack of access to health care,” many of us immediately think of people who can’t afford insurance or don’t have the option of getting sound medical treatment from a reputable doctor.
Although these major problems absolutely deserve our attention, Dr. M Daniela Torchia, MPH, RD, PhD told me the issue is more complex and multilayered than simply whether or not a person can make an appointment with a good doctor when necessary.
“Access to health care does not only mean being able to go to the doctor,” Torchia said. It also means “having access to medicine, clean water, screening services, vaccinations for children, and pregnancy care.”
Torchia said tackling this issue must involve “decreasing the spread of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, Ebola, HIV and environmental diseases caused by vectors, such as malaria by mosquitoes.” She also emphasized that access to healthy food and HIV care is essential.
World Health Day is the ideal day to commit to donating your time or money to a cause that’s important to you. For those who want to get involved, Torchia suggested volunteer work that entails distributing health care information to high-risk populations, such as low-income families, people struggling with drug addiction disorders, and sex workers. Distribution of STD-protecting condoms can be life-saving, particularly for people who’ve been taught to not use contraception for religious or other reasons.
Torchia also recommended participating in community garden programs in “food deserts” — areas where fresh food isn’t available and low-income families can only afford to eat boxed or low-nutrient food. To find the food desert closest to you, use the USDA’s food desert locator map.
The Medicaid Coverage Gap
Dr. Rebecca Quigg, a physician, patient advocate and health reform expert, spoke to me about the pressing health care issues we face in America — specifically those caused by lack of Medicaid coverage.
“Over the years of the Affordable Care Act, 19 states expanded their Medicaid coverage. But the others didn’t and the result is what’s called a ‘coverage gap’ from lack of Medicaid expansion,” Quigg said.
This coverage gap affects nearly 2.5 million American adults. Fortunately, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is available to children of families who make up to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
As Quigg explained, a significant number of people don’t qualify for regular Medicaid, and they find themselves in dire straits if their states didn’t expand the program under the ACA. “They don’t qualify to go on exchanges to get subsidized to buy insurance,” she told me. “That’s because the ACA was planned out carefully to cover all income groups and the Medicaid expansion part was supposed to cover those groups. So 2.5 million people in the U.S. are not getting insurance because they fall into that lack-of-Medicaid-coverage gap.”
Quigg emphasized the importance of convincing people in positions of power to do the right thing when it comes to health care access, which is why advocacy is so important — especially in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.
“Donate to health care advocacy groups and elect people that have the mind-set that we want: to have health care for all Americans. Do we want to provide health care coverage to Americans, or do we not? It’s really that simple a question. And if you do, then you say we made progress in the ACA,” Quigg said, noting that as of today, over 40 million people have gained insurance coverage under the ACA.
In local, state and national elections, we can support politicians who prioritize health care by donating our time and money to their campaigns. Every action matters, whether it’s phone-banking, knocking on doors or making a donation.
In addition to supporting political campaigns, we can take the important step of donating our time and money to health care advocacy groups on World Health Day.
Access to Vision Care
In addition to general medical care, vision care is a critical component of overall health. According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), the global average is 25 optometrists for every one million people. Kristan Gross, global executive director of the Vision Impact Institute, told me that number drops to seven optometrists per one million people in India and four optometrists per one million in Zimbabwe.
“There are more than 2.5 billion people in the world who need vision correction and do not have it,” Gross said. “This lack of care is due to lack of awareness, access and, in some cases, affordability.”
It’s estimated that 80% of what children learn is visual, so intervention for children’s vision should be the starting point. But the consequences of lack of vision coverage are far-reaching. It also affects adults’ ability to be productive in the workplace. Gross noted that $272 billion a year is lost in worker productivity around the world due to employees’ distance vision problems.
Luckily, there’s plenty we can do. Up to 80% of vision impairment can be solved by providing a person with a pair of eyeglasses. “The solution is simple and exists already. We aren’t trying to cure cancer. We have an answer for so many [people] already,” Gross said. “In my opinion, investment for vision care must become a priority if we are going to eliminate an issue that affects almost every person on the planet at some time in his or her life.”
The Vision Impact Institute is one of 70 organizations that has partnered with the Our Children’s Vision campaign. A diverse group of practitioners, nonprofits, advocates and donors from all across the globe have joined forces to achieve their shared goal of providing children with eye health services. The campaign’s target is to provide vision services to 50 million children by 2020.
You can donate to Our Children’s Vision through its Adopt a School initiative. Through Adopt a School, every child at a specific school receives eye care from year one through year 12. The amount of $5,000 provides eye care to an entire school — so every donation matters, no matter how small it may seem.
Access to Dental Care
Due to the Medicaid coverage gap, 2.5 million American adults are deprived of dental care. In addition to putting these individuals at increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases, a recent report published in the New York Times suggests they also face discrimination and economic repercussions. Studies have shown that people with “bad” teeth are often stigmatized and viewed as less intelligent than their peers — and this type of judgment can occur during job interviews.
In certain areas of the country, people who do have insurance face major barriers when they try to schedule an appointment with a dentist who’s covered by their insurance plan. Dr. Neal Nealis, DDS, a Chicago-based dentist, told me that access to care is a major issue in certain areas of the country.
“In some of the rural areas, like in West Virginia and the western states like Wyoming, there may not be a dentist within 100 miles, so people have to drive two to three hours to get to an appointment,” Nealis said, adding that many people can’t afford to drive such long distances or pay for child care while they spend a day driving to and from a routine dental cleaning.
If you’re looking for ways to help, visit the American Dental Association’s website. There are local, national and international volunteer opportunities, and you can make a monetary donation to support the organization’s charitable efforts worldwide.
World Health Day is the ideal day to find your cause (or causes) of choice and begin to donate time, money or both to specific organizations. But April 7 is just the starting point. We’re in the midst of a national and global health crisis, and it deserves our attention every day.