In a world threatened by multiple crises, from diseases to disasters, conflicts and climate change, the right to health for all people is more important than ever.

On World Health Day – which is celebrated every year on 07 April – the World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to accelerate action to realise the right to health for all of their people.

“Good health cannot be a luxury for the few. It is a fundamental right for all,” says Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

“Health is an investment in every country’s present and future. The right to health cannot be realised if we don’t deliver on the promise of health for all that countries signed up to through the Sustainable Development Goals.”

With the theme “My health, my right,” World Health Day 2024 will stress the need for countries to accelerate action towards universal health coverage, so that all people can access quality health services when and where they need them, as well as addressing other key health threats.

Despite significant progress over the past two decades, an estimated 782 million of the total 1.9 billion people in the Region – or more than two out of five people – still do not have full access to at least one essential health service, such as immunisation, pregnancy and newborn care, treatments for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, as well as for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and hypertension.

Even for those who can access care, high out-of-pocket expenses often cause financial hardship. One in five people in the Region face catastrophic health care spending, meaning they pay an unreasonable amount of money (defined as 10 percent of their income), when accessing services. Health expenses often force them to choose between seeking care or paying for food and shelter for their families.

Today, vulnerable populations in the region – including poorer and less educated groups, and those living in rural and peri-urban areas – still face the greatest challenges in accessing and paying for healthcare, the highest disease burdens and the worst health outcomes.

The right to health has been at the heart of the mission of WHO since its founding in 1948. That year, the right to health was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognised “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of a person and their family as an “equal and inalienable” right for all.

The right to health does not relate solely to health services; it also requires other basic conditions for a healthy life, such as safe water, clean air, nutritious food, adequate housing, quality education, decent working conditions, and freedom from discrimination.

In 1950, only 40 percent of the Region lived until the age of 60. A hundred years after the right to health was established, that figure is expected to more than double to reach 94 percent by 2048.

But living longer does not necessarily mean living healthier unless more action is taken to support people’s right to health, such as reforming primary health care towards universal health coverage.

Continued limited access to affordable, nutritious food, and increasingly polluted environments across the region are contributing to a rise in NCDs such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

By 2048, an estimated 21 million people in the Western Pacific are expected to die each year from NCDs, accounting for nine out of 10 deaths in the Region. Health services to prevent and treat these diseases are not keeping up with demand.

Nearly 300 million people in the Region are unable to afford a healthy diet. Increased availability of cheaper, highly processed foods and drinks that are high in fats, sugars and/or salt and decreased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables are hindering people’s access to nutritious diets and contributing significantly to malnutrition.

Nearly one in four children over the age of 5 and nearly two in five adults in the Western Pacific are now overweight or obese. And these figures are growing.