BANGKOK, Thailand (ILO news) – An estimated 1.6 billion people in Asia and the Pacific lack effective access to social health protection, according to a new report issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Despite more than three-quarters of the region’s population being legally entitled to health protection, pervasive gaps in legal coverage, lack of awareness on rights coupled with practical difficulties and impediments to accessing services leaves huge numbers across Asia and the Pacific needing to pay to receive healthcare, often plunging them into poverty.

The first ever report on the extension of social health protection in Asia and the Pacific, Extending social health protection: Accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific  highlights progress, challenges and coverage gaps in the region. Drafted against backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report also reveals the crucial role of social health protection to protect people’s heath, jobs and income in times of crisis and beyond.

“Investing in social health protection makes a key contribution to reaching universal health coverage. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of its critical importance in supporting people’s health, jobs and incomes, and its role as a key element of an inclusive recovery. It is the ethical and rational policy choice, paving the way to sustainable development and social justice.”

GUY RYDER, ILO Director General

The report identifies significant inequalities in health protection coverage within and across countries in Asia and the Pacific. Less than half the region’s work force has their income security legally guaranteed when sick while just 45.9 percent of women are protected in case of loss of income during maternity.

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