Occupational health

WHO calls for scaling up of workers' health coverage

Information note
Geneva, Tehran, 28 April 2014

On the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries and the global community to extend health coverage for all workers, including farmers and artisans, as well as contractual and migrant workers in the informal sector.

Globally, half of the world’s people are economically active and spend at least one third of their time in their place of work. But only 15% of workers currently have access to basic occupational health services that identify occupational health risks and advise employers and workers on prevention. Such services also provide health surveillance, first aid and training in safe working methods. Only one third of the global workforce is estimated to be covered with insurance for occupational diseases and injuries.

“We have an immense opportunity to reduce inequities and improve overall health of the workforce” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “We are strongly urging countries to work towards coverage of all workers with the needed essential interventions and basic health services for prevention and control of occupational and work-related diseases and injuries.”

Currently about 1 billion workers – nearly one in three globally – live below the poverty line of US$ 2 per day. In some countries, more than half of the workforce are employed in the informal sector with no social protection or health care, and a lack of regulatory enforcement of occupational health and safety standards.

“We want to end the exclusion of poor workers and we want our health services to contribute more efficiently to sustainable economic development,” said Dr Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Minister of Health.

Cost-effective interventions and basic health services are essential to prevent occupational and work-related diseases. These include reduction of occupational risks, monitoring of workers’ health, and early detection of health problems resulting from work. These interventions cost on average between US$18 and US$60 purchasing power parity (PPP) per worker.

WHO is supporting countries to strengthen primary care services. This includes training general practitioners, nurses and community health workers to provide advice on primary prevention of occupational risks, to detect occupational and work-related diseases and to assess the fitness for work. In such a way health services can respond to the specific needs of the workforce, preserving their working capacity and income earning potential.

Recognizing that occupational health is closely linked to public health and health system development, WHO is implementing the Global plan of action on workers’ health (2008–2017). The plan seeks to strengthen the capacities of national health systems to protect and promote the health of workers. The objective is to increase access of all workers, particularly in the informal sector, agriculture, small enterprises and migrants to the most essential interventions and health services for preserving their health, and working capacity and to contribute to make workplaces healthier and more sustainable.

“Universal health coverage (UHC) is a top priority to our health system in Iran. Through expansion of health services and removing financial barriers, UHC will contribute to improving our workforce’s health status, which is the main pillar of sustainable development”

Dr Seyed Hassan Hashemi, Minister of Health and Medical Education, Islamic Republic of Iran

To achieve this objective, WHO collaborates with different sectors namely labour, social protection, local authorities, and international organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the World Federation of Family Doctors (Wonca), and the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), as well as with the associations of employers and workers.

The World Health Day for Safety and Health at Work also coincides with an international scientific consultation on workers’ health coverage, convened by WHO and the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with leading experts on occupational and public health and representatives from policy, research and nongovernmental organizations.

“Universal health coverage (UHC) is a top priority to our health system in Iran. Through expansion of health services and removing financial barriers, UHC will contribute to improving our workforce’s health status, which is the main pillar of sustainable development,” said Dr Seyed Hassan Hashemi, Iran’s Minister of Health and Medical Education.

The consultation will develop a road map and indicators for countries to scale up the access of all workers to essential health services for prevention of occupational diseases and protection of working capacity.

For additional information, please contact:

Tehran:
Ms Nazli Shokouhi, Programme Assistant
Health for Sustainable Development
WHO, Tehran, Iran
Telephone: +98 21 8836 3979
Mobile: +98 936 439 2225
Email: akm-iran@ira.emro.who.int

Geneva:
Ms Nada Osseiran, Communications Officer
Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health
WHO, Geneva, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 22 791 4475
Mobile: +41 79 445 1624
Email: osseirann@who.int

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