European governments should not cut healthcare spending during the current economic crisis sparked by the pandemic and lockdowns, the World Health Organization warned on Thursday.

“We are concerned that countries will respond to this crisis in the same way they did to the recession 10 years ago… by cutting public spending on health,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.

“Those cuts prevented many people from accessing the healthcare that they needed.”

According to WHO, public spending on healthcare per capita fell in about half of European countries between 2008 and 2013. Healthcare needs that could not be met increased in 19 of 28 EU countries, with three million more people affected in 2013 than in 2008, it said.

Also, up to 9% of households were pushed into poverty as a result of having to pay for healthcare.

With the EU’s economic output expected to contract by 7.5% this year, the agency warned that health cuts would not only put lives at risk but also be counter-productive.

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“Countries that took the path of cuts to health spending struggled to recover from the economic shock and we must learn from the mistakes of the past,” Mr. Kluge said.

More than two million cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been confirmed and over 1,75,000 deaths recorded in the 53 countries in the WHO European region.

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